Winter Picnic TableAfter being detained in Cleveland for three days longer than I planned for my Christmas vacation, I was staring out my brother’s office window into a stand of bushes and was captivated by the way the small piles of fallen snow lay delicately balanced between the multitudes of three-leaf ringlets on each stem.

Each pile sat like fragile crystalline powder resting precariously, awaiting an icy breeze to dash it and scatter it to the placid snow below. The sight was so stunning, I was frustrated that I couldn’t capture its detail with my pathetic phone camera.

I viewed this petite panorama through a single pane of a single window of a 21-room house.

The back porch was another vision. A wooden patio table and chairs sat serenely there. Something not uncommon from what you might see on my lanai in Florida. The big difference was that my brother’s table was covered with 18 inches of blinding snow and resembled a voluminous iced wedding cake. The four wooden arm chairs were so laced with the fluffy flakes that each looked like it had a 12-inch white headrest.

Now I know where Currier & Ives got their inspiration.

From the kitchen, I heard an engine crank up and peaked out another window to see my brother—capped, coated, and booted–plodding down the driveway behind his snow blower clearing a path for his truck and shooting streams of snow in the air like the feathering mist of a water skier’s slaloming wake.

It was winter as I’d never experienced it.

But I had experienced my own sort of winter, a grueling harsh time last year when I tried to bear a challenging season in my life with grace and aplomb. That’s when it hit me that only God could create great beauty in the midst of such momentous hardship. I had the evidence multiplied before me in, well, not color, but in monochromatic white. And lots of it.

See, the northern flora have adapted to harsh conditions. They buckle down in the winter. They go deep, hibernating, keeping their core–their heart–safe and sound until the seasons turn and spring is reborn.

And so do we.

When the seasons of cold come into our lives as they inevitably will, we can bear the snows of disappointment, the storms of grief, or the tumult of loss with a regal grace that is only of God. It is a unique beauty—often reluctantly borne—viewable only in specific conditions and at specific times in our lives.

You can’t see it when the leaves are green, when the shrubs are weighed down with yellow, blue, and orange blossoms and the red-ripened fruit is falling from the laden trees. You can’t see it when your children are agreeable, you have abundance of funds in the bank, and your marriage feels like an endless honeymoon.

But when the freezing rains of life come, when you can’t seem to get warm no matter how much you pray, when the companionship of neighbors feels like an invasion, when the advice of friends seems like your in-law’s agenda, when memories of the past only bring heartache, only then can God’s extraordinary beauty in us be revealed.

Concord Landscape 1For responding faithfully to such challenges is like trudging with tennis shoes through two feet of new snow—one step and you’re up to your knees in shock. You’re frozen, unable to move. To walk is a chore. To do any of the basic things of life like getting dressed or eating becomes a hardship. What’s more, the path is slippery under the snow, slick with ice and you’re terrified of falling again.

But God never leaves us alone in the woods to fend for ourselves. He leaves us a path. It may not be cleared with a divine snow blower. It may simply be footprints in the snow, carved out by another traveler a few steps ahead of us, someone who has learned the rigors and challenges of cold and ice. Someone we can follow, placing our inexperienced and sneakered feet in their footsteps so we don’t stumble quite as much as we might or fall quite as bad as we would.

Somewhere along the way, maybe our third or our tenth or our thirtieth winter, we adapt. The way my Florida-born brother moves about the Ohio chill like a pro. The cold doesn’t surprise him. He is as much at home behind a snow blower as he is behind a lawnmower, and he moves about the snow and ice with a poise and grace that I can only admire.

I want that.

Not Ohio winters. Lord, no.

But I want to be able to bear those seasonal hardships with resplendence. I want to not be surprised by them. I want to learn how to cap, coat, and boot myself so I can stride boldly through the snow and leave a path for others to follow.

How have you adapted to seasonal hardships?