inters in Cleveland are harsh, bitter, and long. At the foot of one of the Great Lakes, we're dumped with feet of snow at a time, and the temperatures aren't too kind to us, either. Needless to say, the months of November through mid-April are spent indoors with two pairs of socks, a heated blanket, a dog curled up in my lap.
Another thing that makes the winters here so terrible is their unpredictability. Three years ago I sat outside in a t-shirt doing yardwork in 70 degree weather. This year there were two days that I could have gotten frostbitten in two minutes. There are a number of things that I became worried about in our short-lived sub-zero temperatures. I worried about our water pipes freezing, if the powerlines snapped and left us without heat, if my exposed cheeks would be frostbitten on our way to the car, and I worried about honeybees.
That's probably a strange sentence, but I began beekeeping as a hobby two years ago. It's been one of the strangest, most curious, and most fulfilling things I have ever done. I have gotten to know the bees. I've learned their signals and behaviors. I know when they're angry that I'm sifting through their hive, I know when they're warning me to stay away from them, and I know that when they're calm the queen is alive and food is plentiful.
In the springtime nearly three years ago I had a honeybee stumble into my home and I saw her crawling across the kitchen floor. I fed her a mixture of sugar and water, but I could see that she still was struggling to stay alive. I picked a dandelion, placed her atop it, and carried her outside to the sunshine. Within 10 minutes, she was fed, watered, and warm, and she flew homeward. It was too chilly in my house for her to survive, and she was away from the rest of her sisters who would otherwise generate body heat and keep her warm. Bees are sensitive to the cold, and sub-zero temperatures are hard on them.
Perhaps now you can understand my worry. During the winter, bees spend the entire time in the warmth of their hive, generating body heat which the honey stores soak-up and release throughout the coldest months. If the bees get cold, they die. If the wind seeps chill into their home, they die. If enough bees die, there's no one to tend to the queen. If the queen dies, the whole hive, all 30,000 bees, die.
With the frigid temperatures I was resigned to the fact that I'd lost my hive. I was resolved in their inability to survive such temperatures, and my inability to help them in any way. It was frustrating, but those were the cruel cards that winter dealt me this year.
In weather's true, unpredictable fashion, we had 50-degree weather this past week. Nearly the foot of snow that was on the ground last week melted into the earth as the sun shone brightly throughout the day. I figured that would be as good of a day as any to confirm my fears and check on my hive. After all, if they had all died, I could at least harvest any left-over honey they hadn't yet eaten. I pulled my boots on a traversed the mud. About 20 feet away from the hive, I could see movement. My bees survived.
I can't overstate the shock I felt and the relief that followed. These winged bugs, no bigger than a quarter, withstood something that I couldn't have even done. There's something incredible and unprecedented about their endurance. In spite of the polar vortex, the honeybees lived and thrived. Bugs, bugs,
were capable of enduring the impossible. With this, I can't help but be encouraged to do the same thing. If God cares enough to sustain the honeybee, He certainly cares enough to sustain me, too.
I also can't help but be reminded about the Kingdom of God. As a church planter, I'm often reminded about the risks, failures, and impossibilities in life and the church. But the bees remind me of something far more tangible and real–through God's sustaining power the church and Her members are resilient, capable of enduring far more than what seems possible. The Kingdom of God is ever-growing, ever-thriving, even when we don't have the eyes to see it. God is at work in thousands of ways around us, sustaining, creating, and strengthening. From the warmth of my house, I couldn't see the possibility of the bees' survival. But the Kingdom of God, like that little beehive, is growing and working all around us all the time.
The Kingdom of God is not bound by the constraints of humanity. The Kingdom of God is always enduring, growing up in a plentiful harvest all around us, even if we can't fully see it. In the dead of winter, when the wind has a chance at taking your life, the Kingdom of God is alive and well. The Church is surviving, thriving, and multiplying in ways that we may never see on this side of Heaven.
I'm sure those days of terrifying temperatures were not comfortable for the bees. I'm sure they pulled all their limited resourced into pure survival. I'm sure they suffered and wondered when their discomfort might end. Nevertheless, they endured. And if a bug can do it, so can the Church. So can you.