When I was a camp counselor, I taught a devotion in which I had the campers look into the night sky. I asked them to search for their very own constellation and draw it on a card. Many of them looked for their initials. Others looked for stars that shaped their favorite animal. Still others looked for hearts to remind them of how much God loved them.
“Did you know, ” I would say to them, “When God created the universe so long ago, he spoke those stars into space and he thought to himself Some day, this is going to be Annie’s constellation. And that’s why I love these particular stars so much. Because in thousands of years, these stars will remind her of how much I love her.”
I loved that devotion because I believed that it was true. That God really did think of us when he painted the stars. That he could not be contained by eternity, and yet he drew the tiny lines on a leaf. In the very same way, he could be so big and yet be deeply concerned about our tiny little lives.
Back then, my eyes were full of the wonder of my Savior’s love for me. I was always looking for it, remembering it. I would do things like write letters from God where he spoke to me directly. I would have many “special places” with God where I would go and pray, like the woods behind my dorms or the railroad tracks by the river, or the cherry tree that I would climb in and sing.
On Valentine’s day, I would visit spots where I used to have quiet times. I would sing songs from that season and build up rocks as a remembrance of what God had done for me. I even wrote God is my beloved under the altar at my college chapel on one of these remembrance walks. I found it was still there years later when I was visiting my old campus.
My belief in God’s goodness was palatable back then. My sense of wonder was a constant companion.
This sense of awe struck me again a few years ago on my birthday. I have an annual tradition of going on a favorite hike and journaling all the things I am thankful for from that year. As I was on my walk, I turned a corner and my jaw dropped open when I saw thousands of wild yellow orchids, covering a huge meadow that was totally barren two days earlier when I was hiking the same trail.
I felt like God said “Here you are beautiful girl. You love flowers and so I am giving you thousands of them for your birthday.” It was so special.
It has been several years since that experience, and I had another birthday on Tuesday.
I woke up thinking about the experience with the orchids. Instead of thinking that was so kind of God or I wonder what surprise he has for me today, I thought I can’t believe how naive I was back then.
I caught myself thinking this, and it stunned and saddened me. I stopped to examine my heart for a little while.
Why had I become so cynical the last few years? When did I stop believing that God gives me thousands of flowers on my birthday? That he remembered my name when he created the stars?
What had happened to my sense of wonder?
I realized that I have silently doubted the goodness and even existence of God in this last season of my life, slowly, thought by thought. Like water eroding a rock very gently day by day until there was a new pathway where the water went in a completely different direction. I had given in to my doubts minute by minute, and I was now winding down a river much darker than the clear, more innocent water that I used to know.
I have thoughts like, “I am struggling with a bout of depression again. Is God really there?” And it was like a little bit of water corroding the rock beneath it. “There is sex trafficking in the world. It is a issue that I have been fighting for. Could God really be good when this is happening?” A little bit of water eroding the rock. “God has not given me a child yet. Why would he do that to me if he really loved me?” A little bit more water changing the pathway before it. Until my whole journey had changed.
I thought about all of this on the morning of my birthday. I realized that I have all but lost my sense of wonder when it comes to looking at the Father’s love. And I wanted it back.
Later that day, I went on my annual birthday hike, journal in hand. My roommate had told me about a new hiking trail, so I set out to find it.
It was stunning. Once I turned the corner from the busy highway I walked down, it was a different world. If I hadn’t known any better I would have thought that I was backpacking in the middle of a pristine mountain range instead of being a few miles away from Boulder. Huge rivers twisted their way through lush green fields, overlooked by my precious rocky mountains and flatiron rocks. There was a carpet of tiny white flowers everywhere.
But the biggest surprise, my birthday surprise, came when I looked into the sky. There was some sort of white fuzzy plant that was germinating and tiny clumps of it blew through the air, everywhere, all around me.
It looked exactly like snow.
When I looked up, it appeared as if I was standing in the middle of winter with big snowflakes falling in my hair. If I looked down, it was a beautiful spring day.
It was as if I was in two seasons at once: winter and spring.
I realized that God was giving me a new gift this year: the ability to live in two seasons at the same time. One that was sometimes cold and often difficult, the other beautiful and full of wonder. Neither one more important than the other.
When I was in my springtime years ago, I used to look away from dark issues. Personal issues like my struggle with loneliness and barrenness. World issues like war and sex trafficking. I didn’t want it to mar my vision of a loving God.
This last season had been winter. It had been hard, and it wasn’t always healthy. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t progressing. In my winter season, I have looked suffering square in the face, and it has been hard.
Often, I have walked these cold paths alone, brushing past God when he tries to walk with me because I feel angry or ambivalent towards him. Sometimes I didn’t believe that God could exist in winters like these.
But now, I believe I am approaching a new route, where the two parts of my journey intersect into one road. Where it is winter and spring at the same time. A place where God can take my hand because I have opened it to him, walking with me through the pain and the questioning. Not so he can answer my questions, because some of those questions will never be answered. No, I want to walk with him simply so we can be with each other.
Together we can embrace the mystery of a world that is suffering and a God who loves unfathomably at the very same time. Where we can walk together as I face my own darkness and pain. Where we advocate together issues that are scary and horrible, things that break God’s heart every day.
Maybe I can say “there is suffering in the world, including my own suffering” with the beautiful, powerful, unconditionally loving God walking with me. A paradox that I may not understand until I reach heaven. We will walk through fields that are full of flowers and skies that are full of snow, and all of it will be beautiful.
And in this season, maybe God will teach me that if I’m not too scared to look past the snow into the scary, stormy skies, I will see my constellation, the constellation he made for me when he painted the stars.
Stars that cast light I would never see if not for the darkness that surrounds them.