“Gardens are born in winter. Not only in fireside dreams, but also in the messy work of tending small pots on sunny windowsills. And in the harsh work of planting seeds in cold soil. On those still wintry days, the wind makes us regret we have traded our fleece mittens for gardening gloves. But if we wait for promising weather to sow our seeds, we will never taste the sweet crunch of sugar snap peas in June.” (Roots & Sky, p. 95-96)

It’s hard to imagine winter when we’re dreaming of summer-soaked evenings of charcoal-grilled hamburgers and sticky watermelon juice dripping from our children’s chins. Yet, Christie’s invitation to wait, to burrow, though formed by the season, is not limited by it. We can, after all, journey home in whatever season we’re in; each season teaches us more of the Kingdom of God. That is the gift of Christie Purifoy’s Roots & Sky, the GraceTable book club selection.

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In winter, we give words to our need to move away, to move inward, to reflect. Through the glorious anticipation of Advent, the celebration of Christmas, Epiphany, and Candlemas, Christie carves out an internal and external journey for her reader. We follow her footprints in the snow, to the lights of her wooden creche. We watch her by her fireside flipping through tissue-thin garden catalogs with the dream of spring planting. We see her bundle her children, drink hot cocoa, stretch numb legs after an anniversary dinner of takeout eaten after children were snugly tucked into bed. But most of all, we see Christie ache in winter; we see her overcome with anxiety, depression, and overwhelmed with of all the cultivation required to make Maplehurst into the broad, spacious place they envision. Though you might not live in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania, she writes words for our shared human longing.

It’s vital we don’t pass over the ache — of bellies, of seasons, of lives. If we bypass our aches and hungers, we will never find what satiates our inner rumblings. Because underneath our existential aches, our feelings of overwhelm, there are deep questions about God’s involvement in the world: Will Emmanuel really be worth it? Will God be found? Will God come and heal our rattling anxieties, our desire for more when we’ve already been given much? Can God lift me out of depression? Can God heal my anxiety? Will he?

The first time I read Christie’s words on winter, I cried all the way through. I nodded through her words about the pain of waiting, of anxiety. And, when Christie writes of trading the palm trees of wilderness for Maplehurst’s maple trees, I cried because I had just moved to my own palm tree-lined paradise, a paradise that can also feel like a wilderness. I missed the snow I would never see again. I missed the magic of winter, of skiing powder, and the way that snow quiets everything. As if all the world is caught in a hush and only what is vital rises to make a sound.

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But I am heartened by her words that “gardens are born in winter.” Because even if I do not have snow, I have winters of the soul and I bet you do, too. There are not only dreams in seed catalogs. There are the long weeks of work, of tending carefully to small, furtive shoots and we wonder if anything will grow. Yet we do the work. We show up. We stay faithful. With numb hands, we hope in the promise of spring. I am not a gardner but it is something I want to learn, even as I water a small pot of cilantro growing on my windowsill with two baby shoots emerging from the dirt. Those shoots are dreams of homemade guacamole, of neighborhood gatherings, of laughter and connection. Always, there are metaphors in the dirt and in the sky if we ask for eyes to see.

Within the tiny seeds of winter, dreams of abundance curl like tiny promises. But for now, our job as garden-tenders is to do small, unseen work and pray for the hope of rebirth. We wait. We pray that we can emerge from the comforting numbing oblivion of snow and for our desires to change: we pray that our inward burrowing would result in community growth not more self-protection with literal and figurative fences. Because there is “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,”* we pray, like Christie, that we would pick up a hammer. She writes about her own fence at the edge of her property: “It is time to tear down our fences. It is time to open our gates” (p. 79).

Because our homes were never meant as castles or kingdoms. “Symbols die when we lift them up this way,” Christie writes, and it strikes me as very true (p. 108). Home-making and garden-tending are ways our bodies participate in God’s Kingdom work. And God’s Kingdom is all about the ache of glory and the promise that it will be satisfied at a glorious banqueting table where all will be made right. Good fences do not make good neighbors, but a feast sure does.

So we wait with seeds curled in on themselves, as they do their unseen, mysterious work in the dirt. We wait for the feast. We give words and pour out our hunger for feeling “the weight of glory as solid and real as an apple in [our] hand” (p. 96). Glory is born, too, in winter.

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Questions to ponder:

As you sit in the warmth of a sunny season, feel around: what aches and longings have you been worried to put into words?

Where are you fencing out things/people/events that feel like they are encroaching? Where can you take a hammer to them? Where is God calling you to open your gate?


*Robert Frost, Mending Wall

Images featured in this post are from @ChristiePurfoy on Instagram.

Ashley Hales / Posts / Blog
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Instead of traveling the world, she now finds herself miles from where she grew up, chasing her four children, alongside her church planter husband. She writes about finding the Kingdom of God in the suburbs and gives readers tools to chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise at her blog (www.aahales.com).
  • Christie Purifoy

    How good it is to revisit the wintery, waiting season through your eyes, Ashley. Thank you.

    June 17th, 2016 7:26
    • Ashley Hales

      Thank you, Christie, for your own words and your kind comment. I’m grateful for you and your generosity of heart to me, too.

      June 17th, 2016 13:51
  • Sue Tell

    Thank you for your words Ashley. They have ushered me to holy ground. More often, I want to fling our gate open wide and God is saying Sue, just crack it for now. Let the wind of my Spirit blow gently on it. I need to ponder.

    June 17th, 2016 8:05
    • Ashley Hales

      Thank you for your comment, Sue. I am elated that they have spoken to you, just a little crack and wait for the wind to blow. I love that image. It’s hard in those waiting seasons to hope. I will pray for hope for you and for much fruitful pondering.

      June 17th, 2016 13:52
  • Christina Hubbard
    Christina Hubbard

    Ashley, thank you for sharing how the winter moves you to the feet of Jesus. The anxiety—yes I can relate too. Lately, I’ve been fencing out my own need for God. The moments where His patience and understanding must surpass my own. Because mine are failing. I have some guilt this summer for taking time for myself and some dreams God has placed in my heart. It means time spent away from my family and missing out on things. I’ve been asking God, why do I need to push through this now when I would rather not? Why can’t this be a month of rest? And yet there are these tiny seeds that are pushing up through the soil already and He’s asking, “Will you tend them with me?” The winter is over. Summer is here.

    June 24th, 2016 9:47

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