“Almost all of the really beautiful, profound things God is going to do in your life are going to take place over a long period of time, through a lot of ordinary.”
– Matt Chandler
Since I’ve lived in New York State my whole life, I, like all true upstaters, am immensely adept at complaining about the cold, bleak winter that darkens about six months of the year (give or take). It’s a point of solidarity among New Yorkers, something that you can reference to a complete stranger and likely receive an earful on.
However, I don’t actually hate winter. I grew up right outside the snow belt and a recipient of Lake Effect Snow, so winter is like an old familiar friend to me. I enjoy how muted and fresh the world looks under a fresh blanket of snow. I like to ski. I like to sip hot chocolate, curl up next to a fireplace and immerse myself in a book. I like wool socks, scarves, and cardigans.
Yet, in spite of all that, this year I needed it to be spring in a way I haven’t previously. It has been a long, dark, cold few months in my personal life. I am sick of the outdoors reflecting my inward state.
I am ready for growth.
“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks. Its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
– Cynthia Occelli
To be clear, I am not intimidated by winter – both inwardly or outwardly.
As someone who struggles with depression, the seasons serve as a source of continual personal encouragement to me. The seasons are a tangible reminder that change can be beautiful and that everything is impermanent. I am not going to get perpetually stuck in the winter months. Spring will come. Beauty will burst forth, and I will reap what I’ve sown. And, I’m certainly not scared of struggling. Shaming struggling is a facade. Everyone struggles; there’s no reason for shame. Thus it’s a facade I refuse to participate in.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am relieved that it’s finally spring.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
– Albert Camus
I tell you that ant is very alive!
Look at how he fusses at being stepped on.
– Mary Oliver
Even my church building has been a source of ready encouragement to me.
About a year ago, the church that I attend, Goodwill – New Paltz, finally had the privilege of opening the doors of its permanent location for the very first time. Together, we rejoiced as a church, as this is something we had been praying for consistently for the better part of a year and a half. Previously, we had been meeting in the Community Center in town, which, though accommodating, presented its own unique set of challenges. Fellowship was significantly hampered after church due to the fact other groups also used the building and we had to vacate the premises by a certain time. Not to mention the extraordinary outside effort and time it took each week to completely set up and tear down all of the chairs, tables and instruments required for both services.
And, not only did we finally have a permanent location, but the building that my church gets to call its home is, by no exaggeration, one of the most historically significant buildings in the Village of New Paltz. (Interestingly, though the building itself dates back to the Civil War era, my church was founded in 1729 – prior to the American Revolution.)
Feeding the 5000: Transforming a Steakhouse into a Church
The building that now houses my church has traditionally been at the center of the culture and hubbub of community activities. (Coincidence? I think not. God is good.) In fact, in 2004, the building was officially declared a landmark by the New Paltz Village Historic Preservation Commission. The two-story, 3,200 square foot brick building that sits on the corner of North Chestnut Street was initially built as a Village Hall in in 1864. However, it has worn a variety of titles throughout its history. It has been a traditional theatre and a “moving-pictures theater” on multiple occasions, (usually both at the same time,) as well as an Opera House, Community Center, and various restaurants. It has also housed a hardware store, a school of ballet, a barber shop, and a shoe repair shop. It has even briefly housed residents! It has hosted everything from basketball games to barn dances.
Pastor Josh has remarked on numerous occasions that: “To know that we get to be the stewards of this jewel of New Paltz – to me, the most iconic building in the Village – comes with a sense of great joy and great responsibility.”
Turning a restaurant into a church is no small feat, however. Thus, for the better part of the first few months that we occupied it as a church, it was in a state of obvious construction. At this point, everything that is left to do is primarily cosmetic, but there was something very cool about worshipping God in a space that was still in the process of realizing its full potential.
After all, aren’t we all in a state of perpetual construction before Him?
“We, in Communion with Jesus Christ are a Community of friends and families who love and trust Him and passionately pursue the Christ-like Character essential to fulfill our Commission to change our lives and world for Him.”
(Goodwill’s purpose and identity statement)
We live in a society that rewards and celebrates the “big things” – starring in a play, releasing a single on iTunes, getting a metal at the Olympics. Social media has only contributed to this propensity to play into the highlight reel of our lives. But what’s not seen by the masses is the hours of rehearsal, the voice lessons, the frustrations, and years of daily pushing the physical limits that led up to each of these individual successes.
What’s not seen by a visitor of Upstate New York in the spring is the winter that proceeded it. What’s not seen by a visitor of my church now is spackle behind the painted walls; the long days put in by Doug Jeffries and many unnamed others to transform a restaurant into a functional church.
We need to stop waking up and waiting for something wonderful to happen. We are that something wonderful. Let’s make it happen.
“Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.
At the sound of His roar, sorrows will be no more.
When He bares His teeth, winter meets its death,
And when He shakes His mane, we shall have spring again.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
“Where, oh death, is your victory?
Where, oh death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-57
One of my least favorite phrases that has wormed its way into the Christian vernacular is: “God gives His hardest battles to His strongest soldiers.” (It’s right up there with: “God helps a man who helps himself.” Gag me.)
I detest this cliché for a myriad of reasons. First of all, it’s not Biblically grounded. It completely
- Disregards that the only way any of us stand a chance in battle is because of Who God is, not because of who we are. Please. Let’s not get presumptuously cocky. (I don’t know about you, but pride is never something that my Bible speaks of highly. But maybe you have a different translation?)
- Ignores how someone becomes a “strong soldier.” As aforementioned, just like most success, becoming a soldier is preceded and continued by a string of minute decisions daily, small, uncelebrated, and sometimes even unnoticed acts of obedience.
To be entirely transparent, I have often longed that the battles that God has given me to face and carry – my brother’s stillbirth, Nancy’s untimely passing, my depression – could be re-gifted to some other soldier. Not that I would ever wish sorrow on anyone else. But at the same time, I whine at God, why me?
I often get FOMO amongst my peers. Many of my friends my age have graduated college at this point, and are either in grad school or beginning their careers, getting married, or starting a family. I’m still struggling to keep my plants alive, and am not even yet settled enough somewhere to get a pet. My plans have been written and re-written over the course of the last few years, as what I want has changed, and I’ve been forced to take time off of school for the sake of my mental health (I’m actually on a leave of absence from school right now.)
In a way, experiencing grief so young feels like I got robbed of what remained of my youth, and was catapulted into adulthood without my consent or even any sort of warning. I was a senior in high school when Nancy died, on the cusp of finally experiencing the “best years of my life:” getting to discover who I was apart from my parents and hometown, and make irresponsible decisions without remorse. (I may have done that last thing anyway.)
I have often told God that if He wanted to place the calling He has on my life on someone else’s life, I’d be cool with it. (I’m not yet sure what He’s calling me to, but He has made it abundantly clear to me that He has work for me to do.) Because, the paradox of all of this is that “to much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).
I have been given much, therefore much is required of me.
I personally would rather lie low. I’m rather fond of my bed. I’d be okay with just sliding by, unnoticed and uncelebrated, leading a “normal” life with “normal” activities. Unfortunately, that is just not accessible to me. God wants (and even demands) more for (and of) me.
So in trusting Him, I’m striving to celebrate the ordinary: this season of harrowing internal construction, even if it doesn’t look exactly how I had imagined or how I would have preferred. Fortunately, weather* it’s spring or winter, my Jesus is consistent in all seasons, and the gospel only gets sweeter with time.
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is your life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.”
Colossians 3:2-4, emphasis mine