Some weeks ago, my three-year-old and I were out in the backyard while his younger sister napped and his older brother was at preschool. The clear, bright sky was strange for a winter day in Portland, Oregon. January typically calls for two types of rain: drizzles or downpours. But this was a burst of warm light I hadn’t expected.
At my son’s request, we played Ring-Around-the-Rosie on the trampoline. As we came to “all fall down,” we fell on our backs, bouncing up and down. My son’s laughter shot through the trees, and the sound of it sent a shockwave through my heart. I realized I hadn’t heard him laugh like that for a long time—too long.
Our family had been in a rough season, a long winter of struggle. Laughter had been replaced with yelling—at my children, and sometimes at God. My husband, in his fourth year of medical residency, was rarely home. I was often parenting solo with three children, four and under. Each morning began at 5:00 a.m. with my three-year-old crying, and would seem to unravel before breakfast even began. My life seemed like a DVD on repeat—with my boys’ incessant fighting, a baby who needed my tired arms more often than I could give them, and the roller coaster of guilt from not being able to rise above it all. Deep down I felt like a fragile, frozen branch, with so much pressure building that at any moment I might snap, breaking into a thousand pieces. I wondered when, or if, things would ever change.
And yet, on that particular winter morning, something out of the ordinary occurred. There I was, lying next to my son, watching the sun light up his flushed cheeks, seeing his curly hair tousled wild by the wind, memorizing the way his eyes crinkle up when he smiles. And my heart started to ache—the kind of ache that means something frozen is thawing; something that appeared dead is sensing the tingle of life.
I gazed up at all the old oak trees surrounding our yard, stripped bare of all their leaves. Each time autumn rolls around they have to go through the same routine of dropping their bright decorations, one by one, until nothing beautiful remains. The stark branches are left looking barren, vulnerable, and slightly pathetic. Perfect descriptions of myself, I thought.
But, invisible to the eye are the vast root systems digging deep, soaking up nutrients in the soil even during the harshest of winters. The inner life of the Oak continues its quiet, steady work, preparing the tree for its next awakening. Over time, the earth softens and one day, almost imperceptibly, tiny buds burst forth from the rough branches. New life makes its entrance once again.
As certain as the seasons change in the natural world, so it is with parenting. Each season inevitably comes. Each season has a purpose. Dark, cold, lonely winters of painful pruning. Wet springs that signal hope with new sprouts of growth. Warm, glorious summers filled with rest, rejuvenation, and fruit. I can’t force the lovely seasons to remain any more than I can escape the harsh ones.
So in that moment, I lingered next to my son on the trampoline. I looked over at his elfish little face, the sun bright on his red cheeks, his smile free and contagious. We smothered each other in a big hug. Here was God’s whisper of grace to my weathered soul. All is not dead. All is not lost. There is hope, even in barrenness. There is growth, even in darkness. There is a gentle promise that new life will appear again. And it may come as soon as tomorrow.