When most people think of Canada, they think of cold, ice, and snow. We specialize in winter up here. The province of British Columbia has milder temperatures the further south you go, but Canada is largely a chilly place for a substantial part of the year. I’m from Alberta and winter can last close to six months with dumps of snow recorded even in the summertime.
I continue to live here, even though I hate the cold. I often tell people it’s because I don’t like bugs and those little uglies don’t stand a chance against the long, cold blast of winter. I lived in Edmonton, the Gateway to the North, for 26 years where you’d open the door and clouds of icy, frigid air would billow into your home. I once walked to work in -40°C looking like an overdressed snowman, I had so many layers on, and when I arrived my eyelashes were iced over. Where’s a mini scraper when you need one?
A couple of weeks ago, I had a wintery first. I’ve never been keen on winter driving, but, as some of you know, I now work in a small town a half an hour away taking care of disabled people. It’s highway driving and it’s on the way to Calgary, a city of over a million people, so the road itself is mostly kept clear, but there are blustery winter storms that roll in from time to time. The other night, I was heading to work to do a night shift. The morning commute had been treacherous, so I made sure I left while it was still light out with over an hour before my shift started. 20 minutes into my trip, I came upon a lineup of trucks at what looked like the scene of an accident. There was nothing moving on either side of the highway. A vehicle was resting on its side against an askew power line. Through the blur of blowing snow, I watched the emergency vehicles arrive and the workers with their safety vests scuttling about.
After about 10 minutes of sitting, I parked my car. I contacted my workplace, my husband, and called my daughter long distance to chat, as the clock ticked by and it was evident I wouldn’t be making it to work on time. I had thrown a blanket into the car at the last minute and was glad for it after an hour and a half of waiting. I was one of the last cars to be told to turn around, that I’d have to find another way to proceed, that the road was closed. Now, the old cliché “the middle of nowhere” is apt in this case. I’ve lived most of my life in the city. I failed to bring my GPS and the sky filled with blowing snow was now black, as well. I had no idea where I was in relation to anywhere else. The RCMP mumbled some hurried directions and I slowly, awkwardly turned my car around trying not to back into the trucks that were hemming me in.
I drove tentatively down the shoulder of the road, back the way I came, through the swirling blizzard. I felt electrified with fear. If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that my sense of direction is non-existent. I get lost easily, even when I can see where I’m going. My husband once gave me a compass as a stocking stuffer and I promptly misplaced it. I’d make a great contestant for one of those survival shows if you wanted to watch someone fumbling through a forest, becoming more exhausted, giddy, and delirious with every trip on a twig, and finally rolling up in ball on the damp earth and freezing/starving/crying myself to death. I thought about calling in, but I also thought about my clients waiting for me and how hard it would be on the rest of the staff if they were one person short.
I did arrive at the road I was directed to and had to work hard to follow the signs in the flurry. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I was driving in the lane or on the shoulder. Thankfully, there was no one else on the road. All the smart people were at home in their pajamas eating chips and watching TV. I called out to Jesus repeatedly, pretty much chanted his name, and wouldn’t you know it, ended up behind a snow plow. As long as I stayed far enough away from him so as not to get sucked into the snow globe he was producing, I was fine. Even though the entire trip took me three and a half hours, it was a good feeling to have successfully gone through it, to walk in the door of my workplace and even have one of my coworkers run toward me and embrace me, going on about how she was worried about me.
Recently, I read Jesus parable about the wise and foolish builder, Matthew 7:24-27, and was impressed anew. I’m a baptist pastor’s daughter, born again at the age of 5, literally raised in the church, and I’ve read that parable many times, but wasn’t ever at the right place to see the truth in it. Jesus was saying that if we give ourselves to him in loving obedience, we will stand in the storm. Stand! What a promise! He doesn’t say we won’t have to brace ourselves. We might get knocked over, even pinned down, but he promises we’ll stand, that we’ll remain intact, that we’ll not be destroyed.
At the hospital setting where I work, there are five pods where the clients live and in between these pods there are courtyards where various shrubs are planted. One day, after a particularly heavy snowfall, I walked by a window and noticed a large shrub bowed low, weighed down with thick, wet mounds of snow. It stopped me. I had to stare at it. The change in the shape of that shrub was so extreme. It normally waved its fronds high and proud in our breezy climate. Seeing it so burdened that it kissed the frozen ground—well, I had to grieve a little. I had the thought that it might be unable to recover. As is the case where I live, the warm Chinook winds blew in and in a little while the icicles, those gleaming daggers adorning our building, began to run like tiny waterfalls. The snow completely disappeared. I walked by my friend the shrub again and it had sprung back into place like a fresh rubber band, even managing to look chipper after its ordeal.
Yes, there are times when the storm overtakes us. Maybe you’re watching the ominous clouds roll in with just enough time to run for cover. Maybe you’re cowering in a blinding, body-battering, heart-quaking hurricane. Some of you may be in a position not unlike my shrub friend. You’ve got dirt up your nose, you’ve been so forcibly intimate with the cold, unforgiving earth. You may feel so overwhelmed with grief, depression, stress, anxiety, or chronic ill health, that you’re laid flat, exhausted, despairing, wondering if you can go on. Maybe you’re agonizing over a broken relationship, or struggling with a difficult work environment, or barely paying your bills at month end.
I wish I could tell you how to fix things in 5 easy steps. I wish I could tell you that if you just trust God and have enough faith, all will be righted from your health to your relationships to your finances. What I can tell you is that I’ve been there and so have others. Your experience may be unique as far as the details, but your suffering is common to us all. I’ve struggled through many bouts of depression since I was a teenager. I’ve had moments where I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I used to wonder where God’s strength was in those moments. One day, in a season of health, I had the realization that I was alive, that God’s strength had been with me all along.
Whatever you do, take gentle, patient care of yourself and seek help whether from a family member or trusted friend, a pastor or your small group at church, a doctor, counselor, or social worker. Let go of going it alone. God made us to be in community. Jesus modeled it by choosing a band of disciples. We were meant to live, grow, and thrive together and yes, struggle, sweat, and cry together.
Be nourished by God’s word and call on Him regularly, fervently, and ask others to pray, too. I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer and lots of it. In 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehosaphat, King of Judah, heard that there were three separate people groups set to make war against him at the same time, he called on his subjects for a public time of prayer and fasting. On the morning of the battle, he even put together a worship team to march out before the rest of the soldiers, praising God and this bears repeating. They worshiped God as they marched into war. It seems counter-intuitive to sing love songs to God while moving intentionally toward your possible doom, but this is what they did and the Lord delivered them from the hand of their enemies. Remarkably, not one of them lost their lives. They arrived to find the battle field strewn with the dead, the three armies having turned on each other. The men of Judah did a little cardio, sang their hearts out in worship, and returned home with the spoils of war, because they were brave enough to trust God and move forward in praise. I encourage you to lift your voice above the din, the pain, and watch for God to move on your behalf.
Now, King Jehosaphat did have a word from the Lord, that God would fight the battle for them, before sending his men into war. That assurance must have bolstered their courage enabling them to stand, but how often does this happen for us today? For the clan of Judah, there was the ominous possibility of suffering, but for Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, the suffering was already present and chronic. Paul speaks of a thorn in his flesh, something that was causing him enough pain that he begged for relief, but he admits that relief never came, only the words, “My grace is sufficient for you”. Paul wanted his well-being, his comfort restored and God said, in effect, I know what you want, but you need me. I’m enough for you right now and always. I remember being in a particularly difficult situation where everyday the first prayer on my lips would be that God would dump a truckload of grace on me. I actually imagined one of those humongous trucks backing up and dumping it’s load on me, burying me in the soothing, sustaining grace of my Lord. I’ve been experiencing unprecedented health in the last six years and I believe, without a doubt, that I’m standing tall today by the grace of God.
You may not be standing now and I’m not even sure what standing looks like in your situation. Don’t let the swirling circumstances or the crushing pressure rob you of the ability to trust His love for you and rest in it. Seek help, feed on His word, pray to Him and praise Him, and you’ll spring back up, physically or otherwise. Isaiah 40:31 says “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Soaring on eagle’s wings. How’s that for standing?! It’s His will for you to stand in the storm. Take Him at his word.
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