The Sad Days start the same way all seasons do.
The wild plants on the side of the road on which you are travelling, start to change, ever so slightly.
They might have been sporting little yellow flowers – bright indications of warmth, health, abundance… But almost without you noticing, they somewhat wilt, and then shed. The plants become bare. It’s subtle at first, only a few dead leaves here or there. But as you travel on, you notice them more. Suddenly, there are no flowers at all, and you know you’re in the thick of a new season.
I noticed that something was changing very early. I’ve learned to pick it up over time. Sleeplessness, sensitivity, anxious thinking, rethinking, thinking again…
After the first dead flower along my road, I was resolute – whatever is coming will not get me, it will not get me, it will not get me.
I could sense God nodding at my assertion, but still whispering, tenderly:
Things are about to get difficult, for a while.
I shook my head. Not on my watch.
I promptly did all I could to prepare for a cold winter of mental health. I changed my eating habits, started exercising again, went to the GP and found myself a psychologist.
I am a professional, with no time for sadness, I said. I will not get anxious and I will not get sad. It is not an option.
But sometimes, no matter how slow or fast you run along that road, winter still comes. It can be prepared for – it can be handled – but it cannot be manipulated.
I was furious at myself. I had no reason to be sad. I had no wound. I had change all around me, yes, and normal adult challenges like work and relationships and bills, but I didn’t have trauma and I didn’t have war and I didn’t have sickness and I didn’t have grief. It seemed as though what everyone else in this world could handle, I clearly could not. I was not mature enough, not faith-filled enough, not organised enough, not grateful enough, not wise enough, to be happy.
But the world revolves, the seasons resolve, and new ones take their place.
In some of my darkest seasons, God has often found His way to me through birds.
I have always felt an odd affinity to them as animals. When I kept birds as pets as a child, I found them uncannily human. They were self-aware, affectionate and curious. They loved and grieved deeply.
When I first read about God’s provision and care for birds, I understood Him better.
He cares for their needs. He cares for me.
When people pray over me, God will often give them visions of birds to explain how He sees me. I get the visions of birds, too.
A few years ago, I wrote a short story for a friend, about a girl weakened by the chaos of her own life. One stumbling night, someone hands her a feather, on the street. When she wakes up in the morning, she finds it in her pocket, but doesn’t remember how it came to be there. She throws it away, but from that day on, strange things start to happen.
She finds feathers everywhere.
In her clothes, in her hair, on the floor… She finds a nest of sticks in her bed. She finds flowers and seeds in her fridge. She is confused and angry, but she is changing. Somehow, the flowers taste better than the cigarettes. The sticks feel softer than the strange beds.
One night, impossibly uncomfortable, she leaves her apartment, and crawls into a tree in the garden to sleep. Without realizing it, she has been slowly transformed. The old can’t stay, the new must come.
The next day, she wanders the streets, barefoot and smiling, and presses a feather into someone else’s hand.
It was just a story. They’re all just stories, at first.
Three years later, I had come to that place in The Sad Days, where even those things I would have previously given my life for, felt flimsy.
The stories hadn’t come true. The ‘rules’ of the faith hadn’t worked. Colouring inside the lines had produced the same paint-by-numbers picture of ‘a good life’ as everyone else. It looked neat, but felt corrupted.
What had happened to the beauty?
I needed to believe there was more mess to God than that.
I felt betrayed by church culture, by the stories, and by my own openness.
I felt like I was falling out of love, against my will. It was like desperately trying to swim, and drowning anyway. I felt helpless, muted.
And that was when they started appearing – in the same way the flowers disappeared.
I’m not sure what it was that brought my attention to it originally. I think it was the fact the feather was so out of place. It was on the floor – between the bathroom and the bedroom. It had no reason to be there.
I had had a strangely vulnerable morning. I had made decisions that had confused me, and I didn’t know what God thought.
I remember staring at it, and hearing that small voice reverberating against my rib cage:
This is for you.
I crouched to pick it up. There was a line of feathers. White, pale brown, and dark brown. I collected them all, and hid them before anyone else in the house could ask what I was doing. It was just a co-incidence, surely, but it stuck with me.
A day or two later, I took myself to the 1000 Steps in the Dandenong Ranges to sweat out my restlessness.
As I ascended the first stretch of path, I looked to my right, and stopped. A pure white feather sat amongst the dust and green. Despite being in a rainforest, the feather didn’t quite make sense. It was fresh – almost fluffy.
You’re imagining it.
I kept walking, but something had snagged the fish-hook tucked in my chest. A quieter part of my heart cried out.
If it’s you, please just give me one more.
I knew it was foolish to even ask. If God were there, He would not respond to such a faithless call for miracles.
But within three more steps, there it was. A second feather – bright white, caught against a branch.
I stared, in awe, and blurted out, almost involuntarily:
Could you do it again?
In a few steps, there was another – and then another.
I stood under the canopy, glowing for the first time in weeks.
It wasn’t as though the season suddenly changed, because it didn’t. The Sad Days cycled through. The hurt had me cornered, but I knew that He knew, and I knew that He cared. From that day on, the feathers began to fall like rain.
I found them everywhere – and always when I needed them most.
I would lock myself in a bathroom in anxiety, and find one on the bathmat.
I would walk off set, after a difficult scene, and find them littered all along the path.
I would find feathers after making choices that I knew pushed God’s love away.
I found feathers in bars, when I was feeling lonely.
I found feathers on the beach, when I felt so out of my comfort zone I could hardly speak.
I would stub my toe, and as I bent to pray over the pain, find one at my feet.
Once, when I was particularly distressed, I found a brightly coloured feather on the ground outside our greenrooms. I was so overjoyed, that I turned to the makeup artist beside me, grinning like an idiot.
She stared at it, bemused.
God gives me feathers!
It came out before I had time to stop it. I hadn’t mentioned my faith to anyone on that job. She looked at me a little deeper and nodded.
I found feathers in joyful times, too – when out celebrating with friends, in an apartment in London with my family, and in my pocket, in Thailand.
I found a soft white feather – without a single mark – in the mud trails of western England, whilst in deep in conversation with someone I cared about.
It still sits in my handbag, perfect in every way.
Now, I have just landed back in America.
Los Angeles is strangely painful. A city of lost things – a city of a different season.
I flew from summer to winter, in under thirteen hours.
I thought I might leave The Sad Days behind, but they met me here, without apology.
We have work to do.
And so we do.
When I landed, the weather was almost the same as Australia. I wandered around in a t-shirt, grief rising up in my chest, and immediately started praying for God’s help.
Just remind me that you’re with me.
He was, but there were no feathers to be found.
This afternoon, I travelled east – up into the mountains to prepare for a wedding. It’s cold up here. A proper winter.
It wasn’t until I was walking through the snow of Palm Springs, that I finally looked down at my red dress, and discovered the finest, gentlest feather I had ever seen, clinging to the cold fabric.
Softness, in severity. The paradox of the Lord, constantly comforting my soul.
If The Sad Days are identifiable through the lack of flowers along my path, the hope in my life can be found in the feathers, graciously taking their place.
I thought I could keep running this race in my own strength, without pause. I thought my faithfulness – my unwavering love for God – was mine to boast of. But I am not the author of my faith. I am weak, and sometimes I will stumble.
The glorious turn is that my love, or lack thereof, is not the deal-breaker.
My faithfulness was never the promise.
When I fall in weakness, He will stop to help me stand.
The Sad Days may come and go, and I may shiver, lash out and close down – but my Lover will not flinch.
He will remain by my side. His love will endure forever.
‘He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.’
‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.’
Song of Songs 2:11-13