This past winter in northeast Ohio is one that few people will miss. Many say that it was a "bad" winter, one of the "worst" we have had in a long time.
I, however, am simply referring to it as a harsh winter.
Certainly there is no denying that it was more consistently cold and that the temperatures were considerably colder than average. We also had more snow than usual. All of this has caused hassles and hardships to many people. And we don't like hassles and hardships, so we label it a "bad" winter.
However, it was also a very beautiful winter. There were days when the trees were "abloom with snow". At other moments, the sight of the sun sparkling off the pristine white was dazzling. Lake Erie was nearly frozen over, its once crashing waves stilled and silent, leading the soul to the shores of contemplative awe.
The air was fresh and crisp as my camera and I braved the winter woods this year. It was exhilarating, despite numb fingers and toes. Birds chirped in the trees and squirrels hopped designs in the snow between the wintry storms. We befriended our warm blankets and sipped hot tea. It was glorious.
I'm sure many would think that I have lost my mind.
Yet it seems to me that we spend far too much energy hating not just the weather, but unpleasant experience in general. While it certainly seems natural to hate what makes us uncomfortable, a closer look may suggest that this is not always the wisest path to take through life.
Some of my most profound discomforts have also been my best teachers. As I have mentioned before, having panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder earlier in life taught me a great deal about compassion for emotional suffering. Have I thanked God for allowing this wonderful teacher to come to me?
Of course, illness is not something God wants for us but He allows it. Often we cannot understand why - and I am not least among the questioners. And yet illness, both physical and mental, can teach - as can almost any tragedy or unwanted experience.
Even the moods of my soul may be my unwelcome instructors - and fruitful ones at that. I am readily pleased and grateful for the days of delight, when my soul seems to move toward God effortlessly and joyfully. But, when the very next day all prayer feels forced and the existence of God suddenly seems illogical to me, my fickle heart is not so quick to give thanks.
However, when I learn to thank God for even the unwelcome experiences of life, I open my heart to discover the mysteries hidden deep within each moment.
My energies shift from resisting the moment to being aware of it and living it fully, trusting that God is somehow present even when I cannot see Him.
And so I thank you, God, for the cold and snow and ice. I thank you for showing me Yourself in their beauty and for reminding me that they will melt and prepare the earth for new growth. I thank you too for showing me Yourself in my oft frozen heart, for bestowing Your love when I least expect it. May my heart's hardness melt and soften in Your light, that it may be ready to receive the seeds You planted during my dark nights. May Your life ever grow within me and may I never forget to thank you for this wondrous gift. Amen.