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Recently, I read an article by Anne Lamott about spring in northern California. She says it’s almost laughably funny, the gluttony of spring there. She compares it to clowns emerging from a clown car.

As much as I enjoyed giggling at her words, and as beautiful as it must be in Marin County, I kind of like how spring arrives in our neck of the woods–shyly, on tiptoe.

The first glimpse I get to see of timorous spring is the snowdrops emerging in the flower bed by the driveway. One day there is the thick, icy mat of last fall’s leaves, slowly decomposing. The next, there are the tenderest of green shoots poking their heads through.

Yesterday, the snowdrops began to quietly peek out of their leafy swaddling. And then, only hours after I find the snowdrops, I spy a robin hopping around our front yard, picking at dead grass and sticks, and selecting just the right pieces for his nest.

This emerging spring, it will be beaten back a few times by winter’s jealousy. Today it’s snowing. It’s a kind of living-dying tug-of-war.

And it comes to me without me even searching for it. I’m reminded of this beautiful quote from William Willamon’s Lenten essay, “Repent”:

The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns. Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do. So Paul seems to know not whether to call what happened to him on the Damascus Road ‘birth’ or ‘death’–it felt like both at the same time.

This spring emerges slowly, on tiptoe–and this is a picture of my own refinement. It is fitful. It is disorderly. It comes for a while, and then is overcome for a time by winter’s blast. I want it to be smoother, more confident, more linear and predictable. I want the fullness of it to be gloriously funny–like a dozen clowns streaming out of a too-small-car. But it’s actually this paradoxical experience, in which I find myself simultaneously living and dying.

My sanctification, like my spring, comes quietly on tiptoe. Daily, it emerges so slowly and so imperceptibly that one can hardly know it’s happening. It’s only in the looking back, the memory of seasons past, that makes me able to recognize the strides forward that I’ve taken. Because shy spring often looks a lot like bleak winter, when you’re in the midst of it. The difference lies in those tender shoots–the hope and promise of the coming renewal.

Friends, wherever you are today, may you find your own green shoots of hope and promise, and take courage in the coming light of spring.