But spring is dropping hints. The cardinals are up early, whistling to one another.
I started Lent in the gloom of Amos. "How can Jacob/the church/my family/Tim Fountain stand? We are so small!"
Over the weeks, God led me to pray more like Amos. The prophet "cried out." I went to God more personally and passionately than I have in awhile. And Amos' words led me into the painful self-examination of which Lent is made, "O Lord, I beg you! Forgive!"
By Lent 3, my heart was ready to hear the beginnings of an answer - a cardinal's whistle in the bare trees. The Apostle Paul's encouragement to the Romans struck me as the beginning of God's answer to "How can we stand?":
"...suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
This season of my life has had its share of suffering - situations unpleasant and out of my control. The unavoidable necessity to live with some nagging problems without any "program" to solve them. I was drawn to Amos 7 because of this stuff.
But suffering has improved my character. I hate to mimic, say, Stand Firm, but I found that disciplines like "submitting to Scripture" and trying to understand situations by meditating on the cross were most helpful. Less trying to change painful things and more trying to respond to them according to God's Word. And by sticking with this for a few weeks, I'm actually having some of the most clear headed and calm reactions to adversity that I can ever remember, and finding my ability to thank God greatly expanded.
And this God-given tweak of my character is, as Paul says, producing hope. Not in any outcome I might crave (and I have a long wish list), just in assurance that God is faithful and loving and leading me into something "greater than I can ask or imagine."
I can't close this without sharing some of those "God things" that have filled this season with wonder. Some out of state friends who, moved in prayer, sent generous checks the week before I was hit with an unexpected and large expense. A local prayer leader who wrote to tell me, "God is blessing you for your faithfulness. I just heard,'He is a delight to my heart.'" A more prestigious blogger who took a moment to say, "Timothy -- I hope you'll be good to yourself and gentle with yourself."
I call people like this my "Simons of Cyrene." When Jesus was at his weakest and the weight of the cross drove him to the ground, Simon was dragged in to take the burden for him. As I've meditated on the cross and tried to submit to its message, it's been too heavy from time to time. I've fallen down - a lot. But along come these Simons, deep in my Lent, to share the burden so I can take one more step on the road that leads to life.