(A version of this piece was first published on The Twelve.)
During the summer, my schedule permits me to take a walk nearly every morning, just after sunrise. I pop in headphones, tune into a podcast, and head for my favorite path. Quiet neighborhood sidewalks open into a paved trail that winds through a farmer’s field, sometimes dotted with freshly-rolled bales of hay. I make my way around a small pond (albeit a former gravel pit with condos along one side), cross a bridge over Buttermilk Creek, and then veer off to a two-track under a canopy of trees. I rarely make it back home without a feeble attempt to capture a shot or two with my camera phone – it might be the sunlight reflecting on the water or a purple wildflower standing proudly in a drainage ditch.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, the snow had melted enough to allow for a February walk along this same trail. The sun couldn’t find its way through the clouds, and the gray sky matched the barren trees, but I caught myself snapping pictures of details I hadn’t noticed before – just as the voice on my podcast spoke of how almost everything has an “underbelly,” a hidden side we avoid or don’t know as well. I noticed tree roots twisted into the creek banks, the shimmer of ice hugging the pond’s shore, and that same canopy of trees – in shades of gray instead of forest greens.
I found hope on that walk. Hope in the beauty of the gray: like God gently tapping me on the shoulder to remind me that things don’t have to be shiny and perfect to be good, that grace meets us where we’re at, that creation still cries out in the midst of a dark day. And it’s led me this week to notice more of this, to keep a list of hopeful things.
Extra chairs pulled up to a table.
The sudden, distinct memory of my Grandpa’s deep voice singing his favorite hymn.
A student with down-syndrome, who passed a basketball to a student in a wheelchair to make a basket. Bleachers full of middle schoolers filling the gym with cheers.
An eight-year old shaking the hand of a refugee, no words exchanged, just shining eyes.
A well-written 8th grade literary analysis. The thesis: there is beauty in the ugly. And ugly in the beauty.
The yellow of a sunrise on a barren, winter field.
The friend, an atheist, who found herself in a church pew at the request of her son, and said she just may come back.
A child dancing without music.
A driver who stopped, smiled, and waved me through an intersection.
The Writer’s Almanac. A poem each day standing calming amidst a cluttered inbox of advertisements.
Bible Study in the brewery.
Friends who listen. Who need say little more than, “me too.”
On Ash Wednesday, I’m remembering that author Barbara Johnson says that we are “Easter People living in a Good Friday world.” That even in the dormant seasons, God’s story – for redemption, restoration, for the world to be made right again – is not at a standstill. We wait and we work with hope, grateful for a God who shows up in small and big ways.