I Love Winter

No, I’m not being facetious.

After this winter, I won’t be sorry to see spring come (although I’m beginning to suspect that spring this year means small flocks of robins chirping happily in the midst of a light snow shower. I’ve never heard birdsong in the midst of a snow storm before this morning, have you?)

But let’s face it, for anyone who loves winter, this was a year to remember. And I am one of those rare (crazy?) individuals who love it.  I love walking outside into air that makes my face hurt. I love when little vapor clouds completely shroud my vision. Some days I even love the quiet that comes with early darkness, trudging along next to the glow of my dog’s red-lighted collar. (I do not love spending 30 minutes chipping ridiculously hard frost off my windshield every morning, but really, that is a small price to pay.)

Of course, if it’s going to be cold, I want snow. And this year we had plenty of that too. Our first major snow storm hit in December and I didn’t see bare ground again until March – very unusual for this part of the country.  It was so cold one week that snow I tracked into my car stayed there, unmelted, for 4 days, even though I was driving with the heat on.

That’s just cool.

There was one very important observation I made this year, however. And it’s this:

Clothing matters.

Now this may seem like an obvious observation, but in practice, it’s not so easy.  It’s very tempting to run the garbage out with just a hastily thrown on coat.  Or to take a quick walk with the dog without taking the time to put on a complete second layer. But on those really cold days, it didn’t matter if it was just a short jaunt outside, I needed boots, ski pants, jacket, hat (and hood if the wind was really whipping), scarf, gloves… in other words, I needed to be prepared for what I was getting into.  And when I prepared properly, I could spend hours in the snow outside – even the coldest temperatures felt like any other day.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, we’ve been told before about the importance of dressing properly.  “Put on the full armor of God,” Paul admonished “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…” (Ephesians 6:13)

It’s not enough to run out the door just as we are. We need to put forth the time and the effort to prepare for whatever storm outside – physical or spiritual – awaits us. It may be tempting to run out quickly, but just as severe winter storms can be deadly for the unprepared, so too can life’s storms sweep over us unexpectedly.

Do not wait until you are in life’s gale to reach for your armor.  Take the time now – everyday – to sharpen your sword in God’s word, to strengthen the shield of your faith, and to envelope yourself in the protection of God’s truth, righteousness, peace, and salvation. Yes, it takes time to layer on those winter clothes, and yes, it takes time to develop your spiritual armor. But when we are properly attired, even the worst storms will leave us still standing safe and secure.

Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:14-17).

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Consistency

Here’s something runners know that I have recently come to know too:  Consistency matters.

When it comes to running, consistency has never been my forte.  Before my trainer-friend got ahold of me, I’d run when I felt like it.  My progress was spotty because my running was spotty.  It took me more than a year to run a mile, and even then I was never sure if I could do it again.

Now, I run three days a week because my trainer-friend makes me.  (Accountability is a good thing.)  Twice a week I run with the training group and once a week I run on my own.  The other week I ran two miles.  Twice.  And that’s the amazing part.  Not that I did it, but that I did it more than once.  And as one of our running mentors shouted out the first mile, I thought “A mile is easy now.”  The amazing part to me is not so much that I can run a mile; it’s that I know I could do it again.

At a recent group run, my trainer-friend admonished us to not give up on our solo runs.  “Even if you can only get out the door for 10 minutes,” she said, “make sure you do it.  That extra day of running will make your long runs more manageable and your short runs feel awesome.”

Awesome. I don’t know about you, but I like to feel awesome.  And I find her words to be true.  I have made more progress in 5 weeks of consistent effort than I did in more than a year of inconsistency. Which says a lot for the power of consistency.

When I think of habits, I often think of bad ones. But habits can also be good.  They can be pillars in our life that give us structure, forward momentum, hope. And when our lives get turned upside down, it is the strength of our habits that give us footholds to find our way back.

The question I need to ask myself is what habits do I want guiding my life?  And if one of those habits is my relationship with God, what am I doing about it right now? How consistent am I in reading my Bible, journaling, spending time in prayer, sitting quietly, attending Bible studies, attending church services… No, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of it all of the time, but there is always enough time to do some of it consistently.  We need to take one small step and commit to it.  A weekly meeting, a weekly reading, a weekly teaching scheduled into our routine.  We need to establish a level of accountability – a trainer-friend to ask if we’re following our schedule or a small group that meets regularly.

I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t matter how fast or how hard or how far I run on any given day.  Most days it’s not very far, and it’s definitely not very fast.  What matters is that I get up and do it.  And then I do it again.

The same is true for our relationship with God.  It’s not enough for us to meet with Him sporadically.  Pray without ceasing, Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Do not give up meeting together, Hebrews says (10:25). Like a runner’s endurance, relationships grow slowly, over time. And like consistent running, consistently meeting with God prepares us for the race ahead.  Indeed, consistency in our relationship with God makes the hard stretches of life’s run more manageable, and the good stretches feel downright awesome.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:30-31).

Lenten Winter

 

Lenten Winter Spring

Yes, I know.  We did get a few more inches of snow last night. But it’s a spring snow.  It’s light and fluffy – not your typical slushy spring snow, I’ll admit – but it’s quiet as cotton to walk on. Gone is the winter crunch I love so much.  I don’t expect to hear it again this year.

Already long stretches of pavement are exposed where the snow has melted off.  I can touch my dog’s collar bare-handed and my fingers don’t stick to the metal buckle.  The snow still catches against her muzzle when she shoves it, snorting happily, into the drifts.  But frost no longer coats her eyelashes.  Her breath no longer spouts a smoky halo as she runs.  Icicles no longer drip from in her whiskers.

My face still flushes with cold.  I still wear a windbreaker and a heavy fleece and my winter boots.  The wind is strong and from the north, but the sting is gone.  Winter may deliver another cold snap, but deep down I know, even as I walk through freshly fallen snow, that winter is over.

Victory belongs to spring.

It doesn’t matter, now, what else winter tries.  Time is on spring’s side.  The days are getting longer.  Yesterday I saw robins in the bushes and tree buds pregnant with expectancy. New life is there, even today, sitting quietly in the snow. It will come.  It always does. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end – it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

We enter this week into the season of Lent.  Much like winter, Lent is a season of preparation and remembrance.  We anticipate the new life – our new life – that is celebrated on Easter Sunday. But first, we need to prepare.

Liturgically, Christmas and Easter are only separated by a few months.  But historically, these two events were separated by several decades.  Lent reminds us that Jesus grew up human, like us.  He felt anger (John 2:13-17). He felt sadness (John 11:35). He felt compassion (Mark 6:34).  He was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11).  He was afraid (Luke 22:41-44).  You might say that Jesus went through a winter unlike anything you or I will ever have to experience.

Lent also offers us an opportunity to reflect on our own winter struggles. Who among us has never walked in some fashion through our own valley of the shadow of death? Lent allows us to stare darkness in the face and say, “Time is on our side!”  It doesn’t matter, now, what else the darkness throws our way.  The days are getting longer. The victory has already been won.

Once and for all, Jesus nailed sin to the tree.  He took it with Him to the grave, and He left it there when He came back. Jesus carried our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). This doesn’t mean we never sin; we live in a world still choked with sin.  It also doesn’t mean we never feel pain, or sorrow, or fear. Even Jesus himself felt those things. What it does mean is that none of those things will matter in the end. Or perhaps more accurately, those things are what make the ending matter even more.

Sometimes life is a bit like tromping through spring snow.  It’s cold, it’s dark, and the wind is hard and from the north. But do not let appearances deceive you.  Deep down, we can know that victory belongs not to darkness, but to light; not to winter, but to spring.

Lent reminds us that even the darkest winter will not last forever.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “Oh death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).