I love spring.
And, I need spring. I need the new life and the flowers and the way the first warm days and the first days of wearing flip-flops again make me savour life a bit deeper. This year, for whatever reason, spring feels even more beautiful than I ever recall - maybe it’s the tulips or the cherry blossoms, maybe it’s the way the mountains have been so clear and the sky so often a piercing blue, or maybe it’s the fact that my heart and mind seem a bit more on the same page and ready to believe and embrace the newness, the beauty, the opportunity, and the excitement of spring this year.
I was talking with a friend about how I feel like I’m finally starting to feel a bit like me again - slowly (and in baby steps) but steadily - that all of the pain and struggle of the past few years are no longer what feels dominant in my story. That there’s a new song starting to be written in my heart. That life, right now, is a little less bitter and a little more sweet. It’s a humbling and beautiful thing and I’m crying a lot of happy tears lately because of just how faithful God has been to me and the glimpses of just how far we’ve come. I certainly don’t deserve how gentle and gracious He has been with my heart.
But there’s something in the newness and the new life that makes me take pause, too. I mentioned to her that, perhaps crazily, I was a little afraid about embracing the joy that’s sprouting and the start of new things because I didn’t want to forget how real and faithful and powerful God was in the midst of this chapter laced with struggle or how much those circumstances forced me to lean on Him so desperately. I want new life and celebration and happiness, but I don’t want to give up the nearness and desperation if it means forgetting all the ways God met me and grew me in this place. She suggested I write a letter to myself with some of the things I wanted to hold on to from this season (“and then post it on your blog because we all want to read it too…”). At first I thought it was a silly suggestion, but when I sat down to write, the words came like a tidal wave, accompanied with happy tears, because I’m realizing again and again how stunningly faithful my Jesus has been. This is the result.
It’s springtime. lovely springtime.
The trees are nearly exploding with their baby pink blossoms and sunny days are again becoming the norm. Springtime is always met with excitement and joy, but there’s something so tangibly rich about this springtime, something so necessary, so lined with hope.
Summer is just around the corner, taunting you with the promise of summertime sunshine and country music blaring and t-shirts and tan-lines and soccer games and camping and hiking and rest. You’re almost there. Almost finished your second year of grad school. Only a few weeks away from starting the summer internship you still can’t believe you got.
There’s newness here. Possibility. For the first time in what feels like a really really long time, your heart is eager for what’s up ahead. You almost forgot what excitement and dreams felt like, but they’re still here. Alive in you, sprouting and growing with every passing day. They’ve never disappeared, but they did feel dormant, frozen almost, for a while, didn’t they?
This weekend is Easter.
The day that shines with the most life-altering, restorative, worth-everything kind of beauty. The day that shows us – right now. & forever – that love always wins. That death can’t touch the promises of God. That humanity’s evil cannot thwart His goodness. And that hope is never lost.
It’s funny how quickly things change. Last year you sobbed in an elementary school gymnasium. Last year you clung to the promise and enduring hope of the resurrection with more white knuckled resolve than you ever knew you had in you, and found that, even in (especially in) the sadness, it’s still the most beautiful story we’ll ever know or tell.
I know, that in so many ways, you want to slam the door on the past few years and that you’ve fought hard to choose joy and cling to hope amidst what felt a bit like an never-ending downpour. I know that you want to take God’s faithfulness and run – full speed ahead – into a season of goodness and beauty and happiness. To take the lessons you’ve learned and the ways you’ve grown and to somehow move forward and never look back. because this season was a tough one. A really tough one. And even though you lived it and have tears upon tears to mark its place, you still hate to admit how tough it was.
But remember those moments too.
Remember that it was the moments of pain and the moments of joy – both of them. together – that have made you who you are. That made these years what they have been. That it was in the place of hurt where you saw clearly that God had never left you alone. That the shadow, more deeply than you could ever articulate, revealed God to be as deep and steadfast as you believed Him to be.
Remember the nights when tears were your closest friend, when everything felt like it was falling apart. Remember that it was here where you learned to make your home in hope. Where your roots went deeper in the promises that He’d never abandon you. Remember that He never did. Not once. Not ever.
Remember that hospital and the way you couldn’t find the words to express how desperately you wanted him to walk out. Remember how you felt like you couldn’t breathe, so you just held his hand and leaned in close. Remember how that room was a holy space and that in the worst moment to you, he got his greatest dream. Remember how it felt to let go and that you’d never be the same. Remember writing that eulogy and shakily speaking out his legacy while wearing that black dress. Remember how you could barely watch hockey without crying for the entire first year.
Remember when you clung to the promise that the weeping would come to an end. That joy would come again and tears would turn to dancing. Remember the days when that felt like a cruel joke that was so far away. And remember the days you saw it coming true – right in front of your eyes and in your own heart. When the tears, slowly, started to became happy tears. Where the sunlight came and lingered and your heart started to feel free. When your feet even started to dance.
Remember - always - that mountains and the ocean can remedy the worst of life’s problems. Remember the days you could feel your heart coming alive in this place. Remember how it felt when you realized you were home – in this province and this city - and finally and most importantly, in your own skin.
Remember the thin places - the roof in Cambodia, the prayer room in Switzerland, the cafe in London, that village road in France, and all you favourite spots here at home - where you could almost feel yourself changing and God’s gentle hands molding you. Remember that growth is necessary, rarely easy, and always for your benefit. Remember the days when the perfect song or the right set of words in a book was all you needed to be reminded of goodness, when you sat and lingered with a cup of tea for longer than was probably responsible, but the perfect amount of time needed.
Remember the nights when possibility kept you awake, when dreams themselves were enough to bring joy and excitement and anticipation - when you believed that there was nothing beyond your reach. Remember too the nights when possibility felt daunting, when you felt terrified, and where your dreams felt so big you felt foolish to dream them, even more foolish to occasionally vocalize them, and borderline insane to pursue them.
Remember the days you saw nothing but lack and limitation. Remember the sleepless nights and the migraines and fevers and allergies and exhaustion. Remember the tests and the diagnoses and the lack of answers. Remember the tear-filled conversations with your mum when you didn’t know what to do or where to go from here. Remember the days when you didn’t know how you would pay the rent. Remember how much your student loans scare(d) you. But remember how He sustained you. Remember how you never went without anything that you needed, and were constantly given far more than was necessary.
Remember the days when you felt you were doing and pursuing something that mattered and remember the days when it felt meaningless and endless and overwhelming and that you’d never contribute anything of importance or value. Remember that the same stories and statistics that break your heart are the ones that move you to action and make you crash on God’s sufficiency. Remember how you spent years wondering how you’d combine all the things you cared about and how, in the right place and the right time, those steps became more clear.
Remember the days that you felt inadequate and crippled by doubt and lingering fears that you would never be enough, never do enough. But remember too the days you found passion and had clarity. The days you came alive with your work and in your studies. They days you felt like you were actually - finally - uncovering pieces of what you were meant to do. Who you were meant to be.
Remember the countless days you counted the cost, questioned all your motives and reevaluated all your ambitions. Remember all the days you chose to keep going. Remember why you started and remember how far you’ve come since. Remember the days you learned to put your feet behind what you wanted to believe even when you doubted it to be true.
Remember the stupid decisions you made just as you do the wise ones. Remember how hard you worked and remember the lazy and distracted days too. Remember the jobs you didn’t get and the applications that came back negative just as you remember the jobs you did get and the scholarships you did receive.
Remember the races you didn’t run and the games for which you stood on the side-line. Remember the days of optimism and the steps of searing pain. Remember the doctors offices and how, despite their consistency, your heart never got used to the disappointment that accompanied an unfavourable prognosis. Remember the days you thought you’d always be broken.
Remember the excitement of moving and having your own place. Remember how you leaned against your loveseat surrounded by boxes and art, pulled your blanket around yourself tight and cried, because sometimes you really liked being an adult, but sometimes you wish it didn’t involve so much independence and making big decisions alone and sometimes you just wanted to be a kid again and not have to worry about a thing.
Remember how you felt meeting your nephew for the first time. How that little life gave you more resolve to fight for a world full of beauty and justice. How you never knew you could love someone so deeply with one glance. Remember that his laugh and goofiness and childlike trust is wisdom and a constant invitation to do likewise. Remember the excitement you felt when you found out when close friends were pregnant or how nephew number two came exactly when you needed the reminder that new life sprouts in the valleys too.
Remember the days you celebrated with friends at weddings and how your heart felt like it might burst with joy for them. Remember all the times you danced so much you got blisters, but that every song was worth it. Remember how you learned that even when it isn’t your own, love stories are one of the most beautiful things the world will ever know. Remember too, how you felt like you couldn’t breathe watching that first father-daughter dance. Remember the tears you only ever let yourself cry behind the scenes. Remember how your car became a sacred space to drive and cry. Remember all the moments you felt so alone and so unworthy of love and the countless days you believed that would never change.
Remember the goodbyes. And the ache. Remember the hugs in parking lots and watching dear friends drive away. Remember the tear-stained airport farewells. But also remember the new friendships and the new community. Remember how you learned that your heart won’t ever reach capacity and you’ll find new people to love. Remember that vulnerability is always more beautiful and more powerful than trying to have it all together. Remember that choosing to love is always worth it and how you learned that opening up and letting people is always the best choice, despite the constant risk of goodbye.
Remember that it was here and in the spaces of disappointment where you learned the deepest lessons of grace. Remember that that place of being entirely desperate is nothing short of an immense gift because it makes you lean hard on the One you should always be leaning on. Remember that when nothing is assumed and nothing is taken for granted, He can shine the brightest.
Remember that, on your own, you have nothing worthwhile to offer. And remember that that’s a good thing. The best thing, actually.
Remember how you felt stuck.
Remember the waiting and the prayers and the doubt.
Remember the wrestling and the questions.
Remember this too, lovely.
As you move forward and chase goodness. As the sun shines brighter and the darkness increasingly starts to lift. As you begin to feel more and more like the you you want to be, and the you you know you are again. As life again becomes a little more sweet and a little less bitter.
And even if it doesn’t. Or if the rain again mixes with the sun, which it will. It always will. The world is broken and beautiful and to engage fully is to face the best and the worst that it has to offer. But go there anyway.
But go remembering the broken places too, because the broken places are grace.
Cherish the good things. Celebrate the victories. Keep a highlight reel of all of the best moments in your mind – the moments that remind you constantly of God’s goodness and faithfulness and of life’s vivid beauty. Look back on those days with gratitude, but look back at the broken places with gratitude too.
Be thankful for the broken places too.
Remember that our lives were never meant to be neat and tidy and safe.
Remember that the best pieces of art are ones that remind us that hope and despair are not mutually exclusive and that the best stories recognize the struggle and the challenge.
Remember that these memories, bitter and sweet, are the places where you grew up, where you wrestled with your own doubt, where you faced your own demons. These are the places you clung with white-knuckled desperation to Jesus, the spaces where you fell completely and irrevocably in love with Him.
Remember that yours, not then and not now, has never been a story market by broken dreams, disappointment, or a bruised heart, but rather is a story of His grace and power and gentleness paving the way for strength and beauty and resilience and growth.
Remember that you, yes you, are set-apart and cherished and carried and that His banner over you is love. Remember that you never have been and never will be alone in this life. Remember that detours are often the best adventures and that God truly does carry us in the most profound and entirely simple ways. Remember that even the ordinary is lined with immense beauty if you’re willing to look for it. Remember that the best friends are the ones who will let you ask the questions, let you acknowledge the hurt and the struggle, and the same ones who give you space and call out the beauty in you in the process.
Remember that beauty always wins, that love always resounds louder. Remember that dreaming is always a worthwhile and admirable endeavour. Remember that tears are not a sign of weakness, but of compassion and honesty and love. Remember that taking risks for the sake of love and stepping out in faith is always worth the moments when you wonder what the hell you’ve done or if it’s all worth it. Remember that sometimes the bravest thing you can do is run and sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to rest. Remember that memories will always be more valuable than money.
Remember that is was here where you learned to dance in the rain. Where you learned to sink your toes deep in the sand, to give yourself grace, and to buy yourself flowers.
Remember that you counted the cost and He’s always been more than worthy. He will always be more than worthy. Remember that no matter what lies ahead, you now know, more deeply than you often wish you did, that nothing can touch His enduring goodness.
That’s a gift. Don’t slam the door on that gift.
Hold on to it. Cherish it even. Remember the broken places, not as evidence of brokenness, but as evidence of His constant faithfulness to your weary and wandering heart. Because this is just the beginning and you’ll be learning and re-learning these things for the rest of you life.
And if you remember nothing else, remember that this was all Jesus. All grace. All learning and growing and trial and error and tears and laughter and His unrelenting goodness.
Remember the broken places too.