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  • Writer's pictureMary Nolte

Dry Leaves of Winter

I have been in a spiritually dry season for a long time, longer than I care to admit.

As I walked my favorite path recently, surrounded by the grayness of fallen leaves and dead foliage, I jumped at what sounded like something mammoth sized coming up beside me and soon realized it was only a squirrel, jittering around in the crispy leaves, searching through the mass of deadness for acorns. The dryness of my surroundings had magnified the movements of a small squirrel. “How much like my own heart,” I mused. A small disturbance comes along, and it seems to me like something insurmountable. In all that dryness, the squirrel becomes a mammoth.

It was in this state that I recently found myself, anxious over the price of toilet paper rolls. I stood in the grocery store, irritated that they listed the price per square foot on one package while the other package was listed at the price per roll. What madness, I thought, as I brought up the calculator on my phone and had a brief picture of that scene on “Father of the Bride” when Steve Martin starts tearing open hot dog bun packages in the middle of the store, fuming that the “wiener” companies would dare to sell packages of 8 wieners while the bun companies only sell packages of 12 buns, thereby forcing the American public to pay for 4 buns they do not need. It is a scene that is the epitome of anxiousness, the exact opposite of peace and counting your blessings even when life seems to be going off the rails…and I was living it, only with toilet paper rolls rather than hot dog buns. My finger was poised over my phone’s calculator when my husband’s calmly assured, “Mary, does it really matter all that much,” made me put away my calculator and realize just how dry my soul had gotten.

How did I get here?

My husband and I have been between churches, and though we’ve recently joined a new church, it has been difficult to get plugged in, to make new acquaintances. We are entering a new season of life as well as our youngest prepares to graduate and the home that was once full is beginning to seem so empty, the memories echoing down an empty hall. So many unanswered prayers line that hallway- prayers for my children, for our desire for ministry, for relief from years of physical pain. The dryness invades every part of my soul, not unlike the dry leaves that permeate every corner of my yard, covering the landscape in a dullness that feels like it may never end. These months of a lack of fellowship with other believers, my own dull ears as I’ve read the scriptures, and the seeming distance of the Savior have left my heart so much like winter’s foliage, dry and brittle, every disturbance magnified by the cracking and breaking.

Winter can take hold in our lives for many reasons.

We suffer as a result of personal sin, the sins of others, or as a part of the cadence of life- a new season, the bitterness of unfulfilled desires, a disappointing turn of events. We doubt the goodness of God. We wonder at the plans He has for us. We ask, “If God loves me than, why…” Why did my child die? Why did my husband leave? Why the foreclosure, the sickness, the loneliness? Why, why, why? To ask God “Why?” is not the problem, but to begin the question with “if” calls into question the very character of God. It is the same false presupposition that Satan used on Jesus in the wilderness- “If you are the Son of God...” But the apostle Paul takes an entirely different stance on God and His person. In Ephesians 2, Paul lines out who we are as humans and then interjects with this phrase, “but God,” whereas Paul exclaims that God, being who He claims to be, has interceded with His character of love and grace upon my ruined life. As I heard someone put it recently, do not ask, “If God loves me, why?” That is the wrong question. Ask instead, “Because God loves me, why?”

For it is not God’s character that is doubtful, but the allowance of the hardship.

After all, hardship is a part of living in a broken world, breeding a dry, thirsty longing in our souls. We are not alone. It is a common theme in the Psalms. In Psalm 42, the Psalmist pours forth a lament, saying, “My soul thirsts for God.” He speaks of the turmoil of his heart, the torrent of tears that are his food both day and night, and the constant waves of oppression that break over him, while his enemies taunt him, asking, “Where is your God?” Where does the psalmist find strength amidst his parched surroundings?

He remembers. “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you.”

The psalmist had a choice as he stood surveying the barren landscape of his heart, and he chose to remember…the house of his God, the songs of praise, the steadfast love of the Lord, and his salvation. Some years ago, when we struggled with raising a prodigal, I heard someone say to quit listening to yourself and start preaching to yourself. And so, as I lay awake, anxiously wondering about the whereabouts of my child, I would turn my mind to remembrance of the goodness of God- reciting memory verses from my childhood, singing praise songs from youth camp, my mind treading paths lined with answered prayers. What began as rote slowly became real. A new verse would suddenly come alive to me; a song of praise would teem with meaning; I would recognize a recently answered prayer.

For beneath winter’s dry landscape, the soil remembers the spring.

The seeds of life lay dormant beneath the surface, drinking in nutrients, perennials eagerly awaiting the end of the cold. For winter and dry leaves and time all have their purpose. Those dead leaves, sometimes hidden under a layer of snow, sometimes an eyesore in an otherwise tidy yard or an inconvenience to the squirrel looking for an acorn, are becoming fertilizer to prepare the soil to absorb more moisture when it rains and to hold that moisture in better when the dry spells abound. Their purpose is slow work. A pile of dry leaves does not immediately become fertile soil. They are torn and mutilated, crushed by hurrying feet, scattered by blustery winds, soaked by freezing rains until, slowly, they dissolve, becoming more soil and less leaf every day, much of their transformation unseen, hidden until, one day, green life comes forth again.

And so, we groan- crushed in spirit, scattered in thought, soaked in tears.

Our anguish pours forth as a prayer to the One Who hears, the One who sees, as we wait for the prodigal to come home, for the pain to subside, for strength to be renewed. God sees all of your unfulfilled desires. He hears your lament. He is moving beneath all that dryness. Slowly, imperceptibly, the leaves become soil.

There is nothing to do but wait on God and remember His goodness.

And if you find yourself fretting over the price of toilet paper, know that you are not alone. Steve and I and the squirrels are right there with you, longing for spring to come.


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