It’s maple syrup season. I didn’t know maple syrup had a season until about ten years ago, when Darrell took me to the smoky barn of a farmer in Sullivan County. In the far corner of his barn, a huge stove held the biggest pan I’d ever seen. The pan contained gallons of sap from surrounding maple trees, liquid slowly boiling off to leave smoky sweet syrup coveted by pancake eaters across the nation.
Syrup season comes when the first signs of a winter thaw bring afternoons that are well above freezing and nights that continue to dip low on the thermometer. About five years ago, Darrell decided to undertake the pastime of collecting and boiling sap in a stove he built near our garage. It’s a fascinating process. He spends long nights stirring his syrup under the light of the moon and collects hundreds of gallons of sap for the process. It takes about forty gallons of sap to create one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot of cooking.
What’s all this have to do with being stuck in a pit?
Syrup season hits at the same time of year when the lull of winter has worn many of us down. We find ourselves in the low place that comes from too much cold, too much darkness, and too little movement. It feels like a pit. I get it because I find myself somewhere on the fringes of the pit every year when syrup season hits.
Last week I wrote about the value of simply doing the next thing during hard times. This week I felt led to share a handful of strategies that get me through the last lingering months of winter. These ideas uplift me when I’m stuck in a hard season. They breathe life into my soul when I’m struggling. I hope they are an encouragement to you as well.
Put something fun on the calendar
Knowing there’s something to look forward to is essential in boosting morale. It doesn’t have to be a huge event; it simply needs to be something you enjoy. When winter starts to get me down, Darrell often encourages me to go to the woods on a Saturday afternoon. We plan it a month in advance. A long walk in the woods, a little bit of time lingering by a creek, and even an hour in my car with worship music refreshes me. Some of us are refreshed by an afternoon at a coffee shop with a good book, a long visit with an old friend, or an evening out in the city. I find that simply having something enjoyable to anticipate is deeply satisfying and helps pull me out of the pit.
Spend a few minutes outside
Even if it’s cold, even if it requires bundling up, some time under the open sky is refreshing. Stepping outside reminds us of the greater world around us. It opens our eyes to God’s creative work. Even if you only walk around the block, time outside is good for the soul.
Force yourself to create something
This might seem ridiculous to those who aren’t creative types, but activating the creative part of the brain stimulates energy. Take a stab at painting an inspirational quote on a piece of cardstock so you can hang it in your car. Download a coloring page and get to work with your child or by yourself. Try a new recipe. Paint the chair that’s looking weathered. The sense of accomplishment is uplifting. For the past eight years, I’ve painted a different room of the house every time February rolls around. My February painting projects are an immediate countenance booster.
Encourage a friend
It’s true that he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When I’m feeling down, it helps to take my eyes off my circumstances and pray about which of my friends might need a word of encouragement. Sending a text, email, or an actual card in the mail will brighten someone’s day, and it will brighten yours as well.
Count your blessings
In her first book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp encourages her readers to create a list of reasons to give thanks. She shares her journey of counting 1,000 gifts from God and continuing after reaching her initial goal of 1,000. Gratitude journals have been a hit or miss trend since the nineties, and there’s a reason we keep hearing about counting our blessings. Focusing on all that is good is restorative. It magnifies God. When we make God big, we are reminded that he is bigger than even our worst problems.
Whether these words find you soaring high on a surprising warm stretch at the end of February, mucking through the depths of a pit, or somewhere in between, my prayer is that you will find encouragement to keep pressing forward. And if you see Darrell, that sweet smoky smell will follow him for at least the next three weeks. He’d love to share the anatomy of a syrup stove with you.