A Mid-Winter’s Lament

“I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell, I know right now you can’t tell, but stay awhile and maybe then you’ll see a different side of me.” (“Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty)

I played the song for my teammates because it explained my melancholy state of existence in a way I couldn’t. I don’t even remember which winter it was, but does it matter? It happens every winter here. Sometimes not as bad, but every time, the struggle to stay balanced on the edge catches up with me. I’m not talking about walking up to the edge of a cliff and looking over, I’m envisioning the precipice of Mt. Everest…the edge climbers tight-rope walk to the top where they take one misstep and disappear off the mountain for good…it’s a clear drop to destiny on either side.

I try to hide it by being brave and plastering a smile on my face, but usually by January (when the temp is below zero Fahrenheit, the wind-chill is even worse and my very soul is frozen over) if someone asks me how I’m doing all I can do is grunt and say, “Fine I guess.” Or on occasion I’ve been known to tell someone that a small piece of myself has died inside of me, a sacrifice to winter…and I’ll never get it back. Or that I’d like to grab my passport and get on the first plane outta here.

Some mornings I wake up with new morning grace on my side and winter seems magical. Those mornings never last. There’s an undeniable ache that accompanies the entire cold, dark season.

Maybe living on the edge is a blessing. I’ve not fallen into a deep depression (so far by God’s grace and his grace alone), but looking down and yearning for a freefall is tempting when I’m caught in the middle of a dark season. The experience has given me a bit of understanding for those fellow sojourners who’ve fallen off the mountain…or in their hypoxic state chosen to just let go.

I know…it’s just winter. It’s not a life-threatening disease or sudden tragedy, but it is my challenge. Girls who grow up on cotton farms in West Texas are not cut out for this type of frozen tundra life. We choose to leave it up to the Minnesota girls if at all possible. It’s a cruel joke if you ask me. But I dare not complain too loudly or I’ll find out I’m moving to Siberia. There actually is a place on this earth colder than Northeastern China. Those poor penguins.

So what helps me walk the edge and not fall off? I stay clipped into my fixed rope (Sorry…I can’t help the Everest talk because when I think cold and miserable, well…it’s the perfect metaphor). Fixed rope for me is community, margins and celebration.

My friends (including my husband) help a lot, even though they probably get tired of hearing about how much I hate winter and don’t really get it because they seem to be bouncing along like snow bunnies on vacay in Vail. Even though they don’t understand, they allow me to vent. I don’t complain all the time, but enough that they know I hate winter. And when I play them my crazy song, they empathize. I’m so thankful for friends who stick it out with me when the fair weather has passed. And when I say, “I’ll be okay. I’m just cold and it’s winter and I’ll be okay.” They don’t press on and make a big deal.

I become a gigantic introvert in the winter (which confuses my warm-weathered extroverted heart). Staying warm sucks all the extroverted energy right out of me, and I find that I’m a lot happier if I keep my “bask in the sun” hour scheduled every afternoon. Vitamin D is a real need, y’all. I used to feel guilty about my hibernation, but now I see it as my battle plan and make sure my schedule has plenty of space for it in the margins. Winter is the time to read books, drink coffee and play indoors!

To my complete joy, there are holidays in the winter: Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, an anniversary and my birthday. Celebrating these special days with friends and family and creating traditions for each has been essential to my winter survival plan. I’ve found that if I fail to plan, I’ll fail to thrive during these holidays, so they are priority. The beautiful lights and decorations tossed up around the neighborhood and city help keep me out of the dumps as well.

As I share this with you today, it’s no longer winter and I’ve survived again. Little by little I’ve felt the fog lift and found my old self waiting there for me. Since the season is over, I’ve wondered if there’s any point in sharing this now.

The thing is, I don’t know what you’re going through out there. My annual rough patch is over, but yours may be just beginning. I want to encourage you to cling to Jesus and His word while you’re walking the edge. Daily living by the daily bread he gives may not look like a victory, but after you get through this hard spot you’ll look back and realize God has been teaching you and preparing you for the next thing right in the midst of the hard stuff.

If you aren’t currently in that hard place but see it coming from a distance…get ready! Make a plan and think through the lifelines you can clip into when the storm hits. Stop feeling guilty about your feelings and start living honestly in spite of them…even if living looks like hibernating for a while!

And if you’re right in the middle of it, hang on and let others know “just wait awhile and maybe then you’ll see a different side of me.”

Do you have a particular season that’s just plain hard for you to bear? What are your lifelines during that season?

28 Comments

  1. Emily Smith April 24, 2016

    This Minnesota girl cried real tears when I made the decision to move back here…largely due to the long, dark, cold months of a Minnesota winter. (Someday I will live by the equator…please, God?)

    A winter survival plan. I love this idea. Both for the literal winter season that is coming (thankfully I have several months to prepare, still) and for the winter season my heart has found itself in right now. It may not look like victory right now, but one step at a time I’m hoping to carry myself in a way so looking back it will be.

    Thank you for this encouragement today.

     

    1. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      Emily, somehow it’s good to know that even Minnesota girls need winter survival plans! I understand the real tears. I’m sorry you’re finding yourself in winter season right now and hope with you that you’ll find bits of encouragement every day as you keep on keeping on.

  2. Bethany April 24, 2016

    That place colder than northeastern China is Mongolia. 😉 Being from Seattle, I am well-accustomed to SAD during winter, but I haven’t suffered as much from it in Mongolia. I think our regularly sunny skies help that a lot! (Well, sunny if you can see beyond the winter pollution…) Vitamin D supplements help too. I agree that the cold sucks all of the energy out of a person. I definitely feel like hibernating from the start of November to the end of February.

    So how I get through winter is by allowing myself to hibernate–to an extent. I try to do bigger shopping trips with meal plans in mind to cut back on how much time/energy is spent in the cold. Sometimes, with less planning, that means ordering something in or running down to the mini mart at the bottom of our building. Candles, lights, blankets, hot chocolate, and good books are another way to cope with the long evenings and shorter daylight hours. I also have a mental celebration when we hit the winter solstice, knowing that once I get past that day, the days will gradually lengthen and the sun will return! Additionally, just after the winter solstice is when we get to celebrate the arrival of the best Light that has ever come to us. 🙂

    The past couple of years have kept me busy during the winter months with teaching and language learning, but I’m heading into a new season with a baby on the way at the end of this school year. It will be interesting to see how that will affect my winter survival plans. I will be going out even less than I have this winter and last because that pollution is killer, and I’m not sure I want to subject a ~6 mon. old’s lungs to that. :-/

    Thank you for sharing your struggles and thoughts!

    1. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      Bethany, thanks for chiming in! I enjoyed your mention of celebrating winter solstice and I do the same thing! People may think I’m nuts for smiling big on Dec. 21 and saying “It’s the shortest day of the year!!! It can only go up from here!!!” I do the same thing on long flights at hour 7. I bust out my Snicker’s bar, enjoy all the chocolate and celebrate that I’ve survived 7 hours…reached the top of the mountain…it’s downhill from here, baby! Bring on 7 more hours! (I don’t know why winter solstice is at the bottom of the valley and 7 hours into the flight is the mountaintop…and maybe that just messed up my Everest comparisons…)

      Also good to know Mongolia battles winter pollution as well. Not like I’m happy for you, but good to know I’m not alone. If cold and dark weren’t enough to deal with, add in the actual lack of fresh air!

      I once stayed inside for 10 days straight with a newborn during the winter. It was kind of awesome to have an excuse not to go outside, but by day 10 I was in bad need of a walk. It sounds like you’re up for the challenge. Bring on the hot chocolate and good books!

      1. Bethany J. April 25, 2016

        There’s something about knowing that you’re not suffering the pollution alone that helps. I mean, it’s not exactly a fun bonding moment, but I have an ongoing, joking rivalry with a friend who teaches in Harbin about who has it worse on a day-to-day basis. Ha!

        About Mongolia’s pollution…I know our city (Ulaanbaatar) has the worst pollution in winter in the country. A big part of that has to do with its location–set in an oblong bowl and ringed by mountains on three sides. When coal is used for heating and electricity, well…I’m sure you know what that’s like from living in China! 😛

    2. Monica F April 25, 2016

      Hey!  I’m from Olympia:)  Nice to meet a fellow PNWer!  I’ve had to implement MANY of the same interventions you mention above to survive the cold, damp and very grey winters in the part of rural China where we’ve lived…. the part that doesn’t have centralized heating.  I’m a huge fan of Vitamin D and getting exercise ‘inside’ in the winter too.  May the Father bless you as you enter into a new season with a little one- especially in the winter time.  I found that getting out once a day for a brisk walk with babe strapped up- even when it was SO cold and rainy- was good for my soul, and really lifted my spirits during those winter months:)

  3. Elizabeth April 24, 2016

    As always you make me laugh, M’Lynn! Winter in the States is hard for me too. Too dark, cold, and depressing.

    Here, it’s hot season that’s hard to survive — it’s boiling hot right now, and everyone wants and needs more electricity to combat the heat, but there’s not enough to go around in this tiny country, so we get a lot of power cuts. And looking back now, I can see that each hot season has taken me to the edge in different ways.

    Our survival plan generally includes things like more swimming, more air conditioning (when the power is on), more books and movies, and more dessert (not even joking). It even discourages me from talking to God because my peaceful, morning quiet place is too hot to enjoy many days. 🙁 So I have to be careful on that front too.

    1. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      I was so thankful for a FB friend last year who verbalized her struggle with hot season in SE Asia. It made me realize it’s not just winter and it’s not just me! And, I totally get the discouragement on messing up a routine with God. I go through something like that every Spring. Winter is finally over and I’m happy and flowers are blooming and I want to be outside all the time…but if I’m not careful I forget to plan like I did in the winter and I miss out on good times in the Word.

  4. Jennifer April 24, 2016

    Oh my gosh. So glad I’m not the only person who feels like that song sometimes! 🙂 I’m in the Philippines so, like Elizabeth, it’s the hot season. My two little boys don’t seem to mind the heat but I seem to run out of energy by about 9am. Trying to cut waaay back on my expectations for myself and come up with some methods of refreshment (yesterday I let them play in the ice from the freezer I was defrosting!) Your post is a good reminder that, just like everything else, this is only a season.

    1. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      Yeah…my oldest son is a polar bear. He’s never cold. Boys are hilarious. Glad you’re finding creative ways to beat the heat!

  5. Spring April 25, 2016

    Thank you so much for this! We are on the “edge” of some choices and a lot of them we simply don’t know what the answers are.  Since coming to the overseas field just a short 9 months ago I learned that it is a very high percentage of people who leave the field due to other overseas workers. While we aren’t leaving we are going home for a while in part due to another overseas worker.  About a month ago I was just so unable to do anything more than function.  I followed daily routines but that was it.  I have been continually seeking Jesus and his peace really is our only sustenance.

    1. Bethany April 25, 2016

      I can relate, Spring! We applied to our organization in part because of a particular colleague at our fellowship back in the US, and then about a week after we were accepted, he resigned. We stuck with our commitment to go overseas and realized quickly that this is very much where we are meant to be now. I hope that your family finds the rest that it needs!

    2. Emily Smith April 25, 2016

      I’m so sorry. It may be far too common, but it doesn’t make each individual experience less heartbreaking and devastating. Praying you (and all involved) are able to find healing and hope and restoration.

    3. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re holding fast to Jesus. Because, really, that’s all you can do. I hope and pray you’ll be brought to deeper intimacy with Him through all the conflict.

  6. Jennifer April 25, 2016

    “Living on the edge”… I think that is a very good description of where I live right now… So much uncertain… so much unpredictable… feeling at times like I am moving closer and closer to that edge. … Yet at the very same time deeply aware that God keeps speaking about this time as being a time of preparing for what is next. That has ended up including some things which I do which simply doing them makes a difference… draws me back to focusing on God rather than the storm waging around.  I think for me one important thing has been having a couple of people who do understand just where I really am at right now… and what the specific challenges are… so I do have support… and can give support. It has been a long long time since I have had the blessing of that where I am living… so I do definitely count their friendship as a very great God given blessing for this time. Living honestly in the midst of the storm… and living on the edge… both to myself and to God… has made a difference to me… even if only a few know yet what appears to be happening.

    1. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      Jennifer, I’m thankful you have support. That’s an amazing gift. After I wrote this, I later listened to a testimony during the VA Retreat and the speaker shared that if you go over the Edge, Jesus will go get you. He’s not gonna leave you in a pit. Somehow that was just a huge weight off of my shoulders. Praying He’ll show himself in mighty way in the midst of your storm.

  7. Mandy Harvey April 25, 2016

    Oh my…this was so good and timely. I’m a tennessee girl myself, but our family is packing up and preparing to move to England in a couple of months. I know it’s no frozen tundra, but gloomy skies and 40 degree temps run an almost year long marathon there. I am staring out my window even as I write this watching what will be another beautiful 80 degree spring day unfold and I keep wishing I could take all my daddy’s mason jars and bottle it up and put it in my suitcase. I love hot and I have been sitting wondering how in the world I’m going to handle the longevity of the lack of warm and sunny. So, that was my long winded way of saying thanks 😉 I love the tips and think that along with a beach mural on my wall will really be helpful! So glad I found this site!

    1. M'Lynn April 25, 2016

      Mandy, I’m also so glad you found this site! And I put sunshine in Mason jars, too!

    2. Monica F April 25, 2016

      Hi Mandy, where in England?  We are in Wales currently, and it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be.  But, I guess it depends on where in the UK.  We’re near a beach, so that’s been fun for us…even on a rainy day. Hope you have a smooth transition and can take some bottled sunshine along with you for those rainy days:)

      1. Mandy Harvey April 25, 2016

        Hi Monica! We will be close to Oxford in a small town called Bicester, about 45 min northwest of London. I’ve heard wales is beautiful! We can’t wait to visit! Are you guys with a church or another organization?

        1. Monica F April 25, 2016

          Just here for short stint in North Wales while my husband finishes some of his work on his dissertation/PhD work at Bangor Uni.- we do work with a linguistics organization:)  I think you’ll really enjoy your time near Oxford- there will be so much to explore.  As I’m writing this, the clouds have cleared and I’m looking at blue sky and sunshine…hope that encourages you a bit!  Blessings!

  8. Monica F April 25, 2016

    M’Lynn, I really resonated with this post- I was reading along saying ‘yes, yes’!  For 10 years I lived in a very dreary, grey, rainy, foggy part of rural southern China- where we didn’t have centralized heating.  My sister who lived in Tibet would come visit and say how she couldn’t stand the chill-your-bones-cold, even though the temps were more extreme where she was.  It felt better knowing she couldn’t get warm where we lived either- ha ha!  Anyway, the holidays always kept me going, I took my Vitamin D, and got some indoor exercise (T25)!  Listening to worshipful music also did wonders when I was feeling the weight of the weather. I don’t miss cooking and cleaning in my apartment with  3 pairs of socks and a wool cap on, but it sure made for some good stories and brought our friends and family close together (around a heater)!  I noticed the more I stayed indoors, the more down I got.  But if I took a walk to a friends house (and sat around her heater) or took a walk up the mountain with the kids… it seemed to lighten the dreariness that invaded me during the winter.  And now, we are in Wales, where the weather is gloomy at the moment…so I better get outside:)  Thanks for ‘the memories’!

    1. Bethany J. April 25, 2016

      Damp cold really is the worst. One of the things that makes Mongolian winters bearable (in spite of the ridiculously low temps) is that our climate is high desert and dry. If we had humid winters, I don’t know if I could make it. 😉

    2. M'Lynn April 27, 2016

      yeah…cold coupled with damp, foggy, rainy…yikes! we logged one year in Southern China and I was so tired of eating while wearing a coat (back in those young days when most meals were either in the school cafeteria or at restaurants with because it was cheaper/easier than cooking for two people) and had to wear gloves with open fingertips in the classroom while we taught! That is definitely a different type of cold and I’m glad I experienced it so I can be thankful for the indoor situation here (even though with indoor heat I still have to wear layers in my apt…heat differs building to building and area to area and city to city) but hallelujah laundry mostly dries overnight during the months when the radiators are on. damp cold socks are another memory from my southern China days. I like your point about the cold bringing people together. So true. During the down south year, our office had a heater in it so we’d turn it on and be warm and toasty and our students would come in just to hang out and get warm for a while! When we lived further north than we do now (and it’s even colder) we lived in the same building with teammates so that brought our team together during the winter months when no one dared leave the building in the evening which led to lots of shared meals, game nights and movie nights! So, thanks for reminding me of the good stuff the winter brings about 🙂

  9. Amy Young April 25, 2016

    Can I just say I’m LOVING this discussion :)!!

  10. Ruth April 27, 2016

    M’Lynn, I appreciated this!  I like what you said about “I know…it’s just winter. It’s not a life-threatening disease or sudden tragedy, but it is my challenge.”  When I struggle with ordinary things that don’t seem to be a problem for others, I feel weaker or like I should just quit complaining (which maybe I should), but we each have “ordinary” things that are really challenging.  Right now I’m really feeling the stress of getting used to life with 3 kids (How can it possibly take so long to get out of the house?  Will there ever be less screaming?), which seems like a lot of people handle just fine so I ought to be able to also.  It definitely feels a lot like living daily on daily bread, and I loved this quote: “Daily living by the daily bread he gives may not look like a victory, but after you get through this hard spot you’ll look back and realize God has been teaching you and preparing you for the next thing right in the midst of the hard stuff.”  Thank you for sharing!

    1. M'Lynn April 27, 2016

      Funny that I just said to a friend today, “I’m tired of comparing myself to other people who are doing things that seem harder than (***fill in the blank with whatever I’m struggling with***) and then feeling bad because I can’t seem to handle what they’re handling.” And oh, my do I hear you on adjusting to life with three kids. My youngest is two and I still feel like I haven’t quite gotten the hang of this circus!

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