Three weeks ago, there were ten inches of snow on the ground, and for days, I felt like I couldn't breathe--snow makes me feel anxious, boxed in, controlled by something I myself have no control over. When we get that much snow, I feel like the very mobility of my body is being challenged, limited, and forced to go in a direction I wasn't planning to go. I feel out of control—and if you know me at all, you know I can’t stand that.
Three weeks ago, when there was a singular, one-car path down our driveway, and it was the only way OUT, I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack just looking at it.
And it was cold. It stayed cold.
It was like the snow refused to melt. It was like winter was ravaging us and had no plans to stop. I hate winter. I am a beach girl. The entire time it is cold, dark and frozen, I am grumpy. I want sunlight, warm weather, pool and beach days, and sunsets after 9pm. All year long. It never feels like it’s too much to ask until November creeps in and steals all of our daylight. And from November until spring, it is hard for me to embrace the darkness, to accept that this is our reality for several months, and to find joy in anything cold-related.
As all things change, eventually the weather warmed up again, the snow melted, and the sun started to shine. Suddenly, it was March, and I was supposed to feel better. I always feel better in March. It’s like clockwork. But for some reason, March first came and went, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t even notice.
March is the month of expectations.
In March, we expect snow to start thawing, flowers to start blooming, and new life to spring forth with the promise of warmer weather marked by brighter days, later sunsets, and what feels like our first deep breath since the cold snap of winter shut us down months ago.
I live for March first—or I did, until our world came crashing down around us late last fall.
This year has been so interesting. This is the year of no rhythms. This is the year of shattered expectations. This is the year of uncertainty. This is the year of the breaking down—the building up has not yet started, and so the newness I usually allow myself to feel with the onset of the month of March is not something I have yet to entertain.
The universe is such a fascinating phenomenon. I believe so strongly that God has His hands on us, and he is leading us through this valley. Even though the valley feels dark and twisty, I believe that He knows how this storm ends, how we leave the valley, and even though we don’t, I am faithful that we will come out on the other side stronger, healthier, and wiser than we were when our path to the depths of the valley began.
I also believe that in our valleys, God brings us who and what we need to navigate the darkness. Last Saturday, when I forgot that it was about to be March, when I forgot it was almost spring, almost my birthday, almost time for renewal, I remember feeling really sad on the other side of that. I sat in my sadness that evening, not really sharing it with my husband or with anyone else. After all, what is there really to say about a feeling of perpetual darkness? What is there to say when even the promise of spring doesn’t make your valley more navigable?
And then on Sunday, the universe answered me.
On Sunday, my dear friend brought me a book. The book is called “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.” In this book, the author uses winter as a metaphor for the difficulties in our lives. She tells the story of a woman who navigates her own personal “winter” of illness, uncertainty, and the grace that exists in letting go and in giving oneself the space that is necessary to heal in the darkness of winter.
I have not identified with a book like this in literal years. You see, the Actons are in our own winter. We are in the heart of it. This is the deep freeze. We are only halfway through this treatment cycle—and after chemotherapy ends, we face some difficult surgical decisions and options. We aren’t even close to spring. Metaphorically speaking, that is. We have a long way to go.
The author of the book, Katherine May, says this about winter: “In our relentlessly busy contemporary world, we are forever trying to defer the onset of winter. We don't ever dare to feel its full bite, and we don't dare to show the way that it ravages us. An occasional sharp wintering would do us good. We must stop believing that these times in our lives are somehow silly, a failure of nerve, a lack of willpower. We must stop trying to ignore them or dispose of them. They are real, and they are asking something of us. We must learn to invite the winter in. We may never choose to winter, but we can choose how.”
I have approached this season of uncertainty largely with fear and avoidance, but reading about wintering as a necessity of the human experience has given me a new perspective. I could continue to attempt to stave off the onset of winter with hyper-productive behavior, with attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) to be two people at once, with remodeling and painting every surface of our home, or with any other distractor I could come up with. Or, I could attempt to. But denying winter’s existence, its dominance, its power, would be folly. Instead, our role right now is to fully embrace this wintering that we are in, for there is wisdom in rest. There is power in embracing where we are right now. I could continue to look for ways to control this season of life, but I know I shouldn’t.
I also know that I can’t.
Much like the blizzards of winter, this season will not be stopped or controlled, it will only be endured. Jon said something interesting to me this morning: “It does feel like the white walkers are all around us, doesn’t it?” It does. The winter we are in is brutal. There are white walkers everywhere. The snow and the cold blow in from every direction. But we will weather this as we have weathered every other challenge that has been thrown our way.
We will wait patiently for the onset of our spring, knowing our wait will be longer than most. We will anticipate the time that is ours to be led out of this valley, understanding that our valley winds in directions that others’ valleys do not. We will invite our winter in—because we have to. We did not choose this winter—I don’t know what sane person would choose it. But we can, one hundred percent of the time, control how we respond to it.
For now, I am choosing acceptance. I am hunkering down in March, because for us, it’s still the dead of winter. I’ve avoided and bargained and denied for too long. I will likely still find projects to keep me busy, events to speak at, blogs to write, any number of ways to make this winter feel somewhat normal. But I will no longer avoid.
So, for me, this year, maybe March is about acceptance, finally, that the Actons are wintering, and that we will be for quite some time. Maybe my renewal is in the acceptance; maybe my new life is in allowing this season to play out in exactly the way the universe intends for it to do so.
I am learning that even though the days are getting longer, the sun is getting brighter, and the air is getting warmer, our winter rages on. Our job is to allow it to do so, and to allow ourselves to learn the lessons that this winter is teaching us. Our job is to be still and listen to the quiet of the winter, the stillness that wintering brings, and to carry away from it, in our time, what is meant for us.