Layers. 

Sometimes winter lasts for a very long time. Winter with its iced mornings and bone-chilling winds. Winter that brings numbing of the extremities and dribbling noses and foggy breath. It is winter that requires us to wear layers upon layers.

The coldness of winter means we need layers for survival. Layers to keep us warm and as healthy as possible. I see layers as a form of self- preservation. Sometimes layers are the best and only option.

However long and arduous a winter may be, it doesn’t last forever. 

No matter how hard and fierce and piercing a winter may be, unless you live in Antarctica, winter is followed by spring, as surely as day follows night.

Sometimes we can be in a winter season in our life, and it may feel like it is lasting forever. It may be arduous, it may be bitter, it may be challenging on many fronts. But for every person, I truly believe that Spring can and does come. Not necessarily when we wish it, or hope for it, or sometimes even pray for it, but spring does come.

Here’s what I know about life in wintertime: sometimes you just need those layers.

Sometimes you need layers of self-protection in your life, sometimes you need to just distance your heart just that little bit further away, to take time and to create some space.  But everyone knows that you shouldn’t wear too many layers in spring and summertime. It’s not a wise thing to allow yourself to overheat. Sooner or later, when circumstances are different, when they are better, warmer, brighter, you need to peel some of those layers away. And sooner or later you need to peel some of the layers around your heart away.  Because here’s the thing…..if you don’t allow those layers to fully peel away, it is hard to truly feel joy, to feel love and acceptance, because those are the things you need to swirl into your heart. 

Sometimes in winter your fingers get so frozen by winter’s touch that it makes undoing buttons or fiddling with a zip quite tricky. That makes getting your big, bulky layers off, just that little bit trickier. What helps is warming up a little first, then beginning the process of getting rid of a few layers. Sometimes you need to be in that happier, brighter, safer place for a bit first, before you start to break away the layers around your heart. And you know what is necessary sometimes?  A friend. A buddy. A pal. Sometimes your own jacket zipper keeps you stuck stuck stuck. But with the help of a friend…..you can get unstuck pretty fast. Friends, good friends can be really good at helping you cut through your unnecessary layers.

Chronic sickness can be like winter. Grief can be like winter. Anxiety, depression and self- harm. All these things can bring about extended times of life just being that much harder, and that much more trying, and that much more inward focussed. Which can in turn make someone either intentionally or unintentionally form layer upon layer over their heart.

The good news is that layers can come off. They aren’t stuck on forever. And like I said, sometimes they need a friend’s assistance.  Sometimes they need professional help. But always, they can come off as new seasons, brighter seasons, warmer seasons are entered into. 

Layers surrounding our hearts can be chiseled off in the act of worship. When we realign our hearts with God.  When we focus on his goodness and loving kindness. Sometimes the best heart surgery does happen when we’re around good friends, kindred spirits, like-minded people. Sometimes the layers peel off when we pray, or have others pray for us. Someone I know, told me that she had a protective layer of her heart just melt away by the simple act of a friend standing next to her, when she was having a ‘moment’, and her friend simply put an arm around her. A simple hug.

There really is a danger than comes from wearing too many layers in the wrong season.

Let’s be people who look out for over dressed people. And let’s be people who offer grace and love, understanding and permission, to those who are still in the depths of a fierce winter, who really do need a few extra layers on at the moment.

When breathing is a struggle.

Sometimes when my littlest guy isn’t feeling the best he’ll creep into my bed at night and snuggle in. With his ninja like ability to sneak under the covers, avoiding Dad’s side of the bed, he ensures that his place beside me is secure. 

My boys are for the most part pretty healthy little dudes, but the youngest, if he’s not going to be well, it does always seem to affect his breathing.

So sometimes he curls into my side, and I wrap my arm around him. I let him know I’m there. He doesn’t need to worry. I can hear the tightness in his chest. The crackling deep down. Sometimes it takes a bit of soothing before there’s a better flow to his breathing, before there’s an ease, and once again he’s breathing deeply and evenly. 

Grief can sneak up on us, just like the struggle to breathe. 

Sometimes we just don’t expect it. We’re moving forward, just getting on with life, when all of a sudden, the simple things, like breathing, just don’t seem so simple any more. 

We grieve for the past. For losses and offenses, for misunderstandings and misconstrued situations.

We grieve for the present. For wrong choices and missed opportunities, for having to live with less than our ideal.

And we grieve for our futures. For that which won’t come to pass.

When we lived in Oregon we were only an hour and a half down the road from Roseburg, where a terrible shooting took place last week. We have friends in that town and many of our immediate circle of friends have close ties to that town. To say this has rocked theirs and our worlds would be an understatement. 

Today the University in the town immediately next to our American home town has been shut because of an unconfirmed threat. Yesterday the community college and library in our town was evacuated because of a bomb threat. Even here in New Zealand, authorities have been investigating threats at three of our Universities. There is madness all around us it feels. 

My social media feeds are full of opinions of all the extremes, in regards to guns and laws and restrictions. I know enough about the bigger picture situation to know that there is so much I don’t know. While I know I’m entitled to  an opinion, my own social media posts will never be about that for I feel we need hope more than we need opinions.

Perspectives are so varied and everyone feels justified and riled up and the need to be heard. 

But in the meantime, people are struggling to breathe. 

People are grieving. 

While opinions surround us, let’s give the gift of presence.

 Let’s be that shoulder, that strength when there is no strength. Yes, for people affected by recent tragedy, but in a broader sense too. For the people around us, wherever we might be. 

When my little guy seeks comfort in the night, when his chest is tight, I find myself holding him close and even though I am perfectly healthy, before I know it my chest is starting to feel a little tight and I feel a little pain, as I sync up with his breathing pattern. 

And so it is with people. Feeling each other’s pain. Being there for each other. And in a greater sense, I know that as we grieve, the Father grieves. The Lord is near to the broken hearted, and saves those whose spirits are crushed.

Whatever grief you’re facing, whatever hurts are held deep down in your chest, making it hard to breathe….you’re not alone. There’s a loving God who is hovering close, who wants to embrace you, to let you know there’s no pain too awful for Him to bear with you. Ask Him, seek Him, invite Him near. He longs to come close. 

Opinions can wait, presence can not. Presence helps the breathing to flow, deeply and evenly. This I know.