Ask the Catalpa tree.
The other morning I was up early walking my dog after an overnight morning rain. The air was thick. The leaves on the trees were heavy with water that flung in my face when the wind blew.
I have to say that I don't love the morning after rainfalls. I suppose I should, since everything has been watered amply without my intervention (or my water bill!), but I don't at all. I don't like being wet unless I'm swimming or showering. I don't like the smell of wet dog and having to wipe Hank all down when we get home. I don't love how slick the sidewalk becomes or how I get showered walking under branches left to grow too low over sidewalks. I'm just not a fan.
The other morning in particular, the wind was blowing mightily. Hank's senses were on high alert because of the scents the rain brings out and the wind distributes in the air. I was tired and grumpy--likely due to the walk being before my morning coffee--and I really just didn't want to be out and moving around. But here we were, beginning our walk. As we reached the top of the hill at the corner of our street, I noticed the sidewalk was covered in white. From where I was when I first noticed it, I couldn't tell what all of that "white" was. But as we got closer, I saw that it was flowers. Hundreds of flowers. I wondered for a moment where they had come from, and just as I looked up, another flower fell. And another. And another. This tree, that I would later learn is the Northern Catalpa tree, was raining flowers. Down over me. Down onto Hank. And down to the ground below.
I couldn't do a thing but smile--smile and breathe deep for the first time that morning. Here, during the grumpiest of mornings, beauty had found me. Here, during this morning-after-rain, I was being showered with goodness. Here, in the creation I love but don't always like, the magnificence of something larger than my fatigue found its way to me. And it filled me with an immense amount of surprising joy.
In Psalm 30:4-5, the psalmist writes, "Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." I forget that sometimes, I think. I forget that the weeping of whatever "night" I am facing doesn't last forever. I forget that the struggles and the pain and the grief don't last forever because JOY comes with the morning. JOY can, will, and DOES find us--out of the blue, without warning, and without our intervention.
Which means, dear siblings in the Spirit, if you find yourself fumbling in the dark hours before the dawn--Just. Keep. Walking. Trust that even just a moment of joy can and will find you. Trust that the weeping of your night will come to an end. Trust that the God in whose image you were made didn't make some cosmic mistake with you, and let the truth of your worthiness and belovedness rain down all around you. JOY comes with the morning. It's not lip service. It's not a dangling carrot. It's the hope that drenches all of creation--even me. Even you.
Don't believe me? Ask the Catalpa tree.
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Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.