To Hope in the Dark

They stand shyly, each Thursday. These little ones who have entered into the new world of Kindergarten. There are only five of them in my class, but they bring with them a wide-eyed wonder that brightens up the room.

They have known since the warm days of September to bring something special to class to show the rest of us and then tell why it is so loved. They spend the first hour of our learning asking me when Show & Tell is, and I keep reminding them that it’s always after lunch.

My youngest, Zeruiah, spends the week leading up to our Homeschool Co-op deciding what she will bring to show her friends. Sometimes, what gets put in her backpack is a repeat, and sometimes it’s a surprise.

My helper in the second hour always brings something too. She’s raised 10 children and knows how to capture wonder and hold the attention of the restless. She has brought bunnies, slugs and skeletons. 

If I can admit it here, the marvels that she brings are some of my favorite. 

There was one afternoon, about a month ago now, when she brought in a covered basket. “It’s alive and fragile”, she quietly told us, and I assumed it was another bunny to snuggle. 

Only, she told us of how when the seasons begin to change from the long stretched out days of summer to the dark and cold nights of winter, she found herself longing for color. For life.

And that’s when she acquired a begonia.

Each one of us was given a Ziploc bag with written instructions in sharpie, as she pulled her potted plant close and began to gently pull the leaves off of the strong and healthy stem.

“Place your leaf in a cup of water and then set in a sunny area. In a week or two, roots will start to grow from the stem and when that happens, you can plant your leaf in some dirt!”

My thumb is anything but green, and I was a little doubtful. My own children are certain of two things: 1. I’m not the most successful with Science experiments, 2. Plants tend to die in my care.

Following her instructions, my broken stem with roots trailing water was planted in soil and placed in a patch of sun.

Only, I left it against the cold window late one night when sleep was more powerful than the remembering and when I checked on it the next morning, the stem was bowed over, the leaves brown and drooping. 

I was sure it was dead.

I pushed a mound of dirt against the fragility of it, propping it upright with something stronger than itself and I became more attentive, more careful, and then one morning, a green leaf appeared, the small red bud of a flower.

And then today, I noticed a second tiny leaf unfurling, stretching out towards the warmth of the sun – defiant of the cold that is held at bay by the window it sits beside.

And I think of this year that is passing. This year that has brought more pain and brokenness then I ever dared to imagine. Pain that came through my own hand, brokenness that still shocks and knocks the wind out of me.

In those moments that are hard to breathe through, I can’t help but think of the goodness of Jesus – how the very nature He spoke into being points to the truth of Who He is.This tiny shoot, that for all intents and purposes should be dead due to my neglect, my lack of care, still grows. The incredulity that a single leaf can fight in the cold and dark and blossom. The joy it brings me seems so small compared to the glory it gives to its Creator.

I read through the prophets, both Major and Minor in the last months of the year. The brokenness and sin of Israel and Judah seems overwhelming, the promise of discipline stings.

But then, there is hope.

With God, this hope is always there.

The last day of November has quietly slipped into the last new month of this year.  I didn’t realize the truth of it when I first held my tiny broken leaf in my hand, maybe because my own brokenness is deep, and sometimes it hurts to hope.

But hope in Christ, in the work He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in a life surrendered to Him, unfurls in the most unlikely of places. I never dreamed a broken leaf could take root – that a plant could be birthed out of something that was cut off from it’s source of life.

But God is a God who takes a heart of stone and turns it into a heart of flesh. He searches for the one lost and the one who has gone astray, and He restores and rescues and redeems.

It shouldn’t have surprised me then, this tiny little plant that blooms in the cold – when in the quiet of the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope, as the flame touched the wick and the darkness of the mantle was broken, that the words I read were these:

Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him – a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-2

Christmas is only three weeks away now, but the longing for Jesus grows stronger. This season of dark and waiting only heightens the longing for His return.

How beautiful it is to celebrate His Advent in the darkness that won’t last, the joy it is to rest in His light.

In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:4-5

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