A Red Poppy New Year
The calendar says it's time for a fresh beginning. But two weeks into the New Year, I'm still trying to get off the starting blocks. Sound familiar? My problem is that I'm still exhausted from the holidays. In part because I spent more energy faking merry than making merry this Christmas. Truth be told, most days in December I just wanted to cry… a lot.
Experts say that the holidays magnify grief. I can affirm that. Maybe you can too. More than any other time of the year, we miss those whom we have lost to death. But worse I think, may be what we have lost to life: Relationships. Dreams. Jobs. Homes. Promises...
If you are burdened with that kind of loss… the loss that you cannot bury... I hope my vision for this New Year might be an encouragement to you.
In your mind's eye, imagine a field of poppy flowers. Big, bright red poppies... as far as the eye can see! That's what a Canadian military doctor was looking at when he crafted one of the greatest war time poems ever written.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below…
~John McCrae, 1915
In the Spring of 1915, during World War 1, Major John McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields” as he gazed out over the Belgian landscape littered with the casualties of war. Amidst the graves of his fallen comrades, Major McCrae noticed blooms of poppies. Delicate flowers sprouting up in bright red abundance! It was an astonishing sight because months earlier, during the bleakness of winter, the only red that covered the European countryside was the crimson blood of the wounded and dead. But in this new season, vibrant red sprang up with joy and hope… not grief.
The poppies didn’t replace death. Soldiers still lay in their graves while friends and loved ones, including Major McCrae, grieved their losses. But death was no longer all that could be seen. Life, in all of its magnificent glory, flourished between the graves.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Just before Christmas, I was deeply grieving the loss of a family relationship. After years of trying to restore it, I had come to accept the truth that it was gone. All that was left of this once beloved bond was a deep hole in my heart… a wound swollen with anger, sorrow and bitterness. As "the most wonderful time of the year" approached, the overwhelming sadness seemed more than I could bear. Dropping to my knees, I asked the Lord to fill the void with something that didn’t hurt so much. “Lord, fill this hole with You,” I begged. “I don’t know what that looks like. But, I know I don’t want resentment and sorrow to emanate from my heart this Christmas… I want You.” And instantly, behind the flood of tears, I envisioned bright red poppies bursting forth. The grave of that dead relationship was still there in my heart. And, I could still feel the ache of the loss. But alongside of it bloomed God’s glory!
Did you know that the seeds of field poppies can lie dormant underground for years? It is only when the earth above them is tilled that they germinate and grow into flowers. During that horrendous winter of 1914-15, trench warfare brutalized the ground of Flanders fields. On the surface, all that Major McCrae could see was death. But deep underground, as the soil was plowed by fierce combat, poppies were taking root. And in their time... God's time... they burst forth in praise of their Creator.
Life with Christ follows the same cycle. It can be a battle with severe casualties. But when we are honest about our pain and willing to cede the battlegrounds of our hearts to Him, He promises to seed our lives with abundant joy.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed,
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Friends, God is seeding our lives for His glory. There are seasons when the battlefields of our hearts are littered with grief and loss. But we can be confident that the Lord is working underneath all of that pain… preparing our hearts for praise. Like me, you may be in a brutal season of lament now. But be of good courage… the poppies are coming!
Wishing you a Red Poppy New Year!