Take heart. The thaw is coming.
A cold front is hitting All Things New this week. Here, in the heart of February, the lights of Christmas are too dim to make out and the warmth of summer still out of reach. But God speaks to us in the cold. He has something to give us in it (Psalm 147:16). And much like the book of 2 Corinthians, we have to embrace the paradox and the apparent contradictions to get to the grace of it. Bundle up. It’s Cold Week.
have married a crazy person.”
In March, Jeff and I will celebrate 19 years of marriage. It should come as no surprise, given the amount of time we’ve been together, that I’ve questioned my husband’s sanity countless times. But 15 years ago, I watched in stunned bemusement as the grown man to whom I had pledged my life and love galloped around our tiny kitchen, giggling and singing spontaneous songs about snow. We didn’t know it at the time, but the snowstorm that triggered Jeff’s unrestrained glee would soon be dubbed the “Blizzard of 2003.” It felt like the whole city of Fort Collins shut down; we learned later that the storm collapsed the roofs of nearly 100 homes and businesses around the state. But on that March night, Jeff wasn’t pondering the danger of the blizzard or the snow he’d have to shovel the next morning. He was just thinking (and singing), “Snow! Deep snow! Beautiful snow!” And galloping in giddy circles.
Did I mention the galloping?
My husband is not alone in his insanity. The colder temperatures of fall or winter seem to have a similar effect on other people I know and love. One of my close friends adores fall—the brilliant color of the leaves, the slower pace of life, the crisp bite in the air, and most importantly, pumpkin spice. No matter how strong her resolve, my friend cannot seem to resist the siren song of pumpkin spice products. She may or may not be single-handedly responsible for sustaining the entire pumpkin spice industry year after year.
For another dear friend of mine, Christmas is the most wonderful time of year. She has a true talent for decorating, and her home never fails to feel warm and cozy, especially during the Christmas season. Everywhere you look, you see garlands, bows, poinsettia leaves, ribbons and wreaths. Her Christmas tree belongs in a magazine or on Pinterest. But because she loves Christmas so much, she sees little reason to delay her decorating. One year she informed me she had spent the day stringing up her garland and putting the last touches on her Christmas tree. It wasn’t even the middle of October yet. I hadn’t even begun to think about my kids’ Halloween costumes or made plans for Thanksgiving, much less contemplate Christmas. In her defense, she now waits until the first of November before she begins decorating, but I’m fairly certain it’s only because her husband has gently requested that she wait to decorate their home until after October 31.
Still other friends proclaim their passionate love for the season of winter in general. Like Jeff, they are thrilled when it snows. They love to ski or sled or snowshoe; they marvel at the beauty of falling snowflakes. The colder it gets, the more their cheeks glow and their eyes twinkle. I think they are all crazy.
You see, I can’t stand the cold. And for nine months of the year, I am nearly always cold. As the summer begins to fade into fall, I start to battle an underlying sense of dread and sadness. In many ways, I feel like Thèoden, King of Rohan
, watching a massive orc army advancing on the fortress of Helm’s Deep. “So it begins,” my heart grimly utters.
Cold causes me to suffer. Any time the inside temperature drops below 77 degrees, which typically is from September through May, cold is my constant companion. I’ve come to think of those nine months as a distinct season–Cold–that is almost like a personified form of suffering. It causes me to shiver in the mornings as I hurry to get dressed. It compels me to wear my puffy down jacket all day long for months on end. Frequently throughout the day I feel so cold that my hands are mottled and my fingernails are a dusky purplish hue. My bed transforms into a temporary torture chamber at night when I slip under the covers and my back seizes with painful spasms due to the cold.
In many ways, suffering can seem omnipresent. When I go sledding with my family, I genuinely enjoy the adrenaline rush of careening down a hill on a flimsy piece of plastic and the laughter of my children at my terrified squeals. But over and under it all, the biting pain of my cold ears and nose and fingers and toes clamors for my attention. I experienced something very similar a while ago in a season of intense emotional suffering when my parents’ marriage ended in divorce. Grief, confusion, sorrow and anger seemed like they were my constant companions. There were moments and days when I could smile or enjoy peace and beauty, but over and under any time of happiness, the biting pain of my deep loss never ceased.
For me, there are many such parallels between my nine-month-long season of Cold and seasons of suffering. I seek refuge from the cold in many ways. I have a heated electric mattress pad that warms up my bed. I use a powerful space heater in the room where I spend most of our homeschooling hours. I have not one, but three, Slankets
in my house, and I am not ashamed to bring one of those Slankets to a friend’s house if I will be spending time there curled up on a couch and chatting. (If you don’t know what a Slanket is, it’s like a Snuggie only better in every conceivable way.) In much the same manner, I seek refuge and solace from the pain of suffering in friendships, in music, in food, in literature, in silence—and even control.
It is easy to believe, in the dark and dreary days of January and February, that cold is all there is. The heat of summer seems like a fairy tale—pleasant but fictional. I may encounter little pockets of warmth when I wrap my hands around a mug of hot chocolate or curl up in front of a blazing fire, but inevitably the cocoa cools and the crackling logs burn to ash. Before I’m ready, the cold returns. Likewise, in times of pain and grief, it can seem that suffering is all there is. God’s promises of comfort and joy and healing seem like fables.
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus doesn’t promise us a life free from struggle or pain. We live in a world that is broken and populated with people who are twisted by sin. Suffering is a given. But he also doesn’t leave us alone in the face of our inevitable tribulations. He is here with us, in our sorrow, in our pain, in our suffering.
“ . . . I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God . . .”
And he encourages us to take heart. In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians
, Pauls tells us that God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.” He reminds us that good will arise from our suffering because it will enable us to comfort others who are afflicted. And he promises us that “through Christ we share abundantly in comfort.” He doesn’t just provide the fleeting comfort of a Slanket or a space heater. Jesus has actually defeated sin and death. One day, in what may seem like a very long time to us but is really just a blip in the light of eternity, there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and the broken, sinful world we know will pass away. He will make all things new (Revelation 21:3-5).
In essence, he tells us that in this world we will feel the icy sting of suffering. We will live in that reality for so long that we may begin to believe that the wintry season of Cold will never end. But take heart. Summer is coming