Help from Habakkuk
January 31, 2009 | My Jottings
I’m in a women’s group called The SAGs. It’s an acronym for The Saving Graces, which certainly is what the other three women are to me. We have made it a habit to memorize scripture together over the years, and we all take turns choosing what verses we’ll work on each month. Then we get together at various local restaurants, laugh until our sides ache, cry until the tears fall on our food, listen as if our lives depended on it (they sometimes do) and recite our verses for the month together.
It was Lorna’s turn to choose the location and the scripture this month. We had dinner together at The Brew House, and here’s the memory assignment she gave us, from Habakkuk 3:17-18:
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
As I’ve pondered these two verses and worked on hiding them in my heart, it struck me how much a person must know and trust their God to be able to choose to rejoice in circumstances like these. In modern day terms, these verses might be loosely translated:
Even when every bit of my earthly provision dries up, and there’s no more job that brings a paycheck every two weeks so I can buy cereal and milk and chicken and apples and carrots for my family; even when there’s no longer a reliable vehicle in the garage, even when everywhere I turn something is broken and needs repair, even if there are holes in my shoes and creditors ringing my phone, even if my faithful pet dies and loneliness has never been so constant, I will still praise my God, and in faith, rejoice in the riches He gives me.
I wonder what it’s like to know God like this, to have experienced Him and believed His words and character so deeply, so completely, that when everything else is stripped away, one could still rejoice in the Lord. This would truly be living by faith and not sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
This is the way I want to live. At the present time I do have “olives on the vine and cattle in the stall”, but if these uncertain times ever change that, I want to be a woman who will choose to rejoice in the Lord. I’m glad Habakkuk says, “yet I will rejoice, I will be joyful in God my Savior” and does not reference any feeling or particular emotional inclination to rejoice. It would be a choice, an act of the will, in circumstances like these, to rejoice.
I’ve been told more than a few times that I’m strong-willed. I pray that the Lord will continually mold that will of mine so that no matter what happens in my life, I will to rejoice in Him.
This is the help and hope from Habakkuk I’ve recently received. What about you? Have you made praise and rejoicing a regular part of your life? Do you remember a time when you decided to praise God in a difficult situation? Have you ever known someone who lived this way? Would you be willing to share about it and possibly encourage a reader today?
This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it…
Do you have Bilbopenia?
January 29, 2009 | My Jottings
It’s Thankful Thursday, and once again I’m so grateful for friends. It’s most often through the love of friends that I’m reminded of God’s love for me. Sometimes our friends have brought entire meals just to bring a little relief to our days. Sometimes our friends have fasted and prayed for us in times of extreme need. Sometimes they just call to see how we’re doing, and their words talk us down from the ledge. Other times a card will arrive in the mail, with just the right thoughts to soothe our hearts. And sometimes our friends help us laugh, even in the midst of our sorrows.
A dear friend of mine made me laugh out loud the other day. After she read my blog post on Slaying the Dragon of Selfishness and the condition I’m sometimes afflicted with (Witchinson’s), she e-mailed me to tell me she too, has occasional bouts with a buffeting affliction.
My friend has:
Bilbopenia (bil-bo-pee-ne-uh) n. An inherited disorder characterized by abnormally low levels of love in the heart. In extreme cases, it may be followed by abrupt personality changes. [New Latin, from Greek penià, poverty, lack; see (s)pen-in Indo-European roots.]
I knew exactly what she was referring to, and if any of you have seen Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, you’ll no doubt recall the hideous picture of evil and greed on Bilbo the Hobbit’s face when he and Frodo are together again, and Bilbo snarls and lusts for the ring. It was a scene in the movie that made hearts pound and viewers startle in their seats.
So while I do battle with Witchinson’s, I wonder now if I also have Bilbopenia. **Sigh**
Do you have Witchinson’s and/or Bilbopenia? No? What do you have then?
On the way to the zoo…
January 24, 2009 | My Jottings
Have you ever been in God’s Waiting Room? I think most of us can identify with having been there at one time or another, when we’re praying and waiting and trusting that He will move His mighty arm and intervene in the people and situations close to our hearts. My husband and I considered ourselves nearly permanent residents in God’s Waiting Room as we prayed for a loved one for over twelve years. I lost hope more than a few times, but Michael never did, and God did move and did answer our prayers, and there isn’t enough praise on the earth to express the wonder and gratitude I have felt for His power and faithfulness in that situation.
But then along comes another trip to the waiting room, and instead of diligently calling to mind what God did in our lives while we waited on Him before, I am kicking at the walls and pounding on the door and wanting out, now. I’m tired, and don’t want to be here. I’m having a hard time remembering how God sustained us when we were here last. I think this new room is smaller and has fewer windows than the one we knew before. There also seems to be an electrical problem in this waiting room because the lights don’t always work. Sometimes I sit here in total blackness.
So when I recently read an account about C. S. Lewis and his conversion to Christ, I was encouraged. I have long been a fan of Lewis. I think his work Mere Christianity could convince any person honestly seeking the truth about Jesus. And The Chronicles of Narnia will always be some of my most beloved books.
While I’ve read most of Lewis’s writings, I have yet to read Surprised by Joy, where this quote comes from. Lewis writes about how quickly and without notable fanfare he went from not believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, to believing that Jesus is the Son of God.
“I know very well when but hardly how the final step was taken. I went with my brother to have a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo. We started in fog, but by the end of our journey the sun was shining. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.”
C. S. Lewis was riding in the sidecar of a motorcycle, and while on the way to the zoo, he believed. And 20th and 21st century Christendom has been powerfully impacted because on the way to the zoo, Lewis believed.
So sometimes God does a magnificent work in a short time. Perhaps this stint in the waiting room might not take twelve years. Maybe not even twelve months. Only God knows. But what might happen if I keep praying and believing on the way to the grocery store? How might God move in the hearts of those I love as they load the dishwasher? What miracle might take place as they’re putting on their shoes?
If C. S. Lewis can quietly become a follower of Christ while riding in a motorcycle sidecar on the way to England’s Whipsnade Zoo, then God can certainly perform lasting and cosmic works in me and in those I love in a relatively short period of time. Of course I don’t know how long it will take for Him to do His work. His ways and thoughts are not my ways and thoughts. But I do know that He is good and He can be trusted. I don’t always keep that in the forefront of my mind…when I’m clawing at the walls of this waiting room and kicking at the door and screaming to get out, I guess I’m not patiently trusting Jesus and casting my burdens on Him as He wants me to do. But I’m trying. Some days are better than others.
In the meantime, I’m thinking of what happened to C. S. Lewis on the way to the zoo. And praying that God will do even more wondrous things for our families on the way to the grocery store. And on the way to the gas station. And on the way to work. And on the way to school. And on the way to bed. And on the way home…
Slaying the Dragon of Selfishness
January 20, 2009 | My Jottings
A little over three years ago my dear husband Michael was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He was only 56 years old, and we certainly did not see that one coming. Our family doctor thought he saw a slight stiffness in Michael’s walk and a lack of facial expression, and referred him to a neurologist. Of course we were stunned when the Stage 2 diagnosis came, and we wondered how this would change his life, and our life together as a couple. Indeed, it has changed almost everything in our married life.
Michael doesn’t have tremors like the majority of Parkinson’s patients, but he has the other classic symptoms: severe joint stiffness, tiny handwriting, an occasional shuffling gait, a blank look on his face, debilitating exhaustion, and a loss of volume in his voice. Everything he does and says is slow and deliberate, and he looks like a man living tentatively.
One of the most difficult things for me personally has been the loss of conversation between us. He can barely raise his voice above a whisper sometimes, and then only for three or four words. I spend a lot of time saying, “What? Pardon? Can you try to say it louder?”, and he gets as frustrated as I do. There’s a lot of silence now. But we have a wonderful love between us. Our marriage has been a gift from God, and even though our aging years are apparently not going to be filled with the familiar, companionable verbal sharing I had pictured, we have touch, we have the knowing way we connect with our eyes, we have humor, we have our 28-year history, and we have Jesus.
One day as we were driving home from a neurologist’s assessment in Minneapolis, we were both reflecting on all we had learned. The speech therapist who worked with Michael showed him on a computer monitor how his voice wasn’t even coming close in decibel level to that of a typical speaking voice. She kindly but firmly said to him, “It’s your responsibility to raise your voice so that people can understand you.” So as I drove along on the interstate with traffic noise around us, I was having trouble hearing what Michael was saying. I had to keep my eyes on the road and couldn’t easily study his mouth as he spoke, and I kept saying, “What? Louder.” and finally I raised my voice and said, “The speech therapist just told you that you’re the one who has to make yourself heard! Talk louder!” I was crabby. He said, “Never mind,” which of course made me feel terrible. I apologized to him for being so witchy and intense. And then this is what I said, and we’ve used this terminology and laughed about it ever since: “Michael, you have Parkinson’s, and I have Witchinson’s.”
I couldn’t find the definition of the word Witchinson’s in Webster’s dictionary, but it’s listed in my own personal dictionary, and here’s what it says:
Witchinson’s- wi’ chun suns – noun - (orig. unkn.) 1a – a condition that causes impatience: restlessness or shortness of temper, especially under irritation, delay, or opposition. 2a – being concerned excessively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being, with less regard for others.
Now that we’ve established the official definition of Witchinson’s, here’s the official portrait of what it looks like:
But God’s Word has a remedy for every malady – even Witchinson’s, because His Book is like no other.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
It’s the only book we’ll ever hold in our hands that’s living and active, and powerful enough for any mountain in our lives. Next time you have your Bible nearby, just take a long look at it. It may look much like any other book, but I believe if we could see it through God’s eyes, we would see the pages brilliantly lit and shimmering with power, and we could feel it vibrate with the very life of God. But He has told us to live by faith and not by sight, and we are to take Him at His Word, even when we don’t yet see all that He’s going to do. So my Bible does not shimmer and pulse, but if we could see it with spiritual eyes I believe we would hungrily pick it up and read many times a day.
So while my kind and humble husband is losing mobility and needs help with his shoelaces and with cutting food, I have gone through an inner battle with some disappointment. This last year has been full of unwelcome changes around every corner. As Michael’s abilities have lessened, it seems that my life has gotten smaller. I’ve had to let go of some activities that felt like they were life-giving to me, in order to keep up with the increasing demands of our work, and of my husband’s needs. And even if I don’t always show it on the outside, Witchinson’s rears its ugly head too often on the inside. With every impatient sigh or roll of my eyes, or wave of self pity that comes, I know that God can see my heart, and wants me to be different. More like Him. It isn’t that my heart doesn’t break for what my formerly active and strong husband is suffering. It’s just that in my own weariness, sometimes I’ve allowed self-pity and selfishness to govern my thoughts instead of the Word of God. And unfortunately, there have been times when I’ve been more businesslike with Michael than servant-hearted. There’s a lot to accomplish on any given day, and I can be brusque and task-oriented rather than gentle and people-focused. I’ll bet some of you reading this relate to what I’m sharing, even if your husband isn’t sick. Some of you are overwhelmed with your own struggles – challenging children, inattentive spouses, financial hardship, precarious health issues, loneliness, secret battles, or just plain tiredness. You know the feeling of starting each new day with firm resolve, and ending it with the confession of your failures.
Because I long to walk closely with the Lord and bring a smile to His face, I’m always crying out to Him about this issue, asking for His help and strength. I know He’s able to bring to completion the good work He has started in me, but I’m dismayed at how quickly my selfish nature surfaces. I can’t give an exact formula of how to slay the dragon of selfishness in our lives, but I can share how God is consistently moving in my heart and hope that someone will be encouraged.
A couple of months ago, as a group of us were driving to the Twin Cities to attend the CBS Leadership Conference, my dear and wise friend Sue R. and I were talking in the front seat. She shared with me about her father and the inevitable changes that aging has brought to his life, how he doesn’t talk as much as he used to, or have as much energy. She quoted something she had read that made her think of her dad, and it was something like this: “Just his presence was enough now. He had passed on his strength and character to the next generation.” Just his presence was enough.
And with those words, I sensed the Lord begin to speak to my heart about Michael. Just his presence is enough. And it was as if a few scales fell from my darkened eyes. For months I’d been thinking, “Is this how my life is going to turn out? No meaningful conversation? No more adventurous travel? Just me taking care of the multitudes and no one taking care of me?” Oh, that dragon creeps in and turns our thoughts to ourselves and what we think we deserve, and how sorry our lives are, doesn’t he? That real dragon, the enemy of our souls, is always lying in wait, always crouching at the door, sniffing for an opportunity to assist us in getting our eyes off of Jesus and onto ourselves.
Then, the whole theme of the conference we attended was about being a servant leader, and how our lives are truly found when we give them up for His sake and for His purposes. One of the scripture passages mentioned repeatedly by the different speakers was Philippians 2:3-8:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!
This is absolutely impossible to do without God. It’s absolutely impossible to even want to do without God. But with God, all things are possible. As I pondered my struggles of the last year, I could see that most of them were rooted in pride and selfishness.
I’ve read these verses from Philippians countless times. But at the CBS retreat God quickened them to me and I knew He was asking me to take them to heart, and begin to serve my husband differently. He was asking this because He so dearly loves Michael, and He so dearly loves me. He only asks of us what will be best for us.
Michael’s presence is enough. His presence is a blessing, a gift to me from my heavenly Father. And as I sat there and drank in what the Lord was pressing on my heart, I knew that with God’s supernatural equipping, I could go home and begin to make my husband’s life heaven on earth.
Now I know there’s a limit to that. This earthly life isn’t heaven and it’s not meant to be mistaken for it – and Michael is accountable for his own choices. I can’t take away his Parkinson’s, but I can let him know every day that I consider his very presence enough, extravagant, even. He may not have many words for me anymore, but that doesn’t have to affect how I love and serve him. As I have asked God to give me creative ways to bless Michael in this new season of our marriage, He has been faithful to do it. We all need new and creative ways to walk out the lives we’ve been given. We can ask God. We can go to Him, humble ourselves, tell Him we’re willing to obey, and He will show us what to do.
I couldn’t wait to get home from the conference to put into practice what I felt that the Lord had spoken to me. But I sort of didn’t want to tell Michael too much about it, because I knew I’d eventually fail. And I have failed. Miserably. Again and again. For me, slaying the dragon of selfishness is sometimes a minute-by-minute kind of effort. And many times the arrows I shoot fall to earth without even getting close to the target.
To keep it real, I’ll share a recent failure at making our home heaven on earth for my husband. He’s having a hard time turning over in bed these days, and not long ago I woke up as he was struggling to do just that. Edith the Schnauzer was curled up behind his knees, the covers were twisted around his legs, and I could hear him trying to do what you and I take for granted: turn over in bed and cover ourselves. So I sat up, moved chunky Edith away from him, gently positioned Michael on his side, and pulled first the sheet, then the blanket, then the warm comforter up over him so he would be nice and warm. I didn’t know he was half asleep. As I was making sure the covers were right up under his chin he mumbled (petulantly), “Stop it.” And I aimed some daggers from my eyes at him there in the dark and promptly said, “Fine. Do it yourself then.” So much for heaven on earth.
The next morning I apologized right away for my attitude, but he didn’t remember a thing. When I told him what had happened he laughed, and I was thankful for a new day, with new mercies, and a powerful and patient God who enables His weak and needy people to do the impossible by living on His love and strength.
But I’m finding that just making up my mind to do this isn’t what helps me do it. It’s going to God. It’s sitting with Him, searching His Word, and asking Him how He wants to bless Michael through me that day. I have failed way more often than I have succeeded, but on good days I cry out to my Savior in utter helplessness and trust that He will give light as the day progresses.
A couple of years ago I was standing at the kitchen sink as Michael was saying something to me, and as usual I had a hard time understanding him. After asking him to repeat himself numerous times, he finally spoke loudly enough to be heard. Irritated, I said, “Why don’t you speak that loud the first time? It can’t take more energy than repeating yourself five times!” Michael calmly looked into my eyes and said quietly, “Julie, the Lord is using me to refine you.” And as he walked away I stood at the sink and the tears fell, because I knew he spoke the truth.
I’m still disappointed that our lives aren’t turning out as we had dreamed. We had talked of traveling during our retirement years, of a cabin on a lake, of missions trips, and more. Sometimes the days seem horribly dark to me, with our choices getting more limited and our future so uncertain.
But I would rather have God in the dark, than to be in the dark without God. One day in His presence is better than a thousand elsewhere.
Gratitude as a Weapon
I have not slain the dragon of selfishness once and for all. It seems that it’s something I need to do again and again. Just this morning as I was waking up in the chill and dark of our bedroom, I thought I saw the thin, sulfurous streams of breath exhale upward from two ghastly nostrils. That dragon is waiting for me to whine and complain and sigh and despair each morning even before the sun comes up. But I have the quick and sure arrows of God’s truth in my quiver, if I will use them.
I can either be led stupidly into the dank and hideous lair of the dragon of selfishness, or I can stay and dwell in a spacious place, a light and wide open space of freedom and joy. (He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because he delighted in me. — Psalm 18:19)
Today I choose the spacious place. I choose the life God has given me. I don’t have to fully understand His ways to trust Him. Today I plant my feet, reach back over my shoulder and take from my quiver the golden arrow called Thankful. I carefully place the arrow into position on the bowstring, close one eye to aim, draw it back in perfect form, pause, and let it zing, flying straight, far and true…into the heart of the dragon of selfishness.
Today this is what I will do.
Four Sevenths of My Heart
January 15, 2009 | My Jottings
My daughter Carolyn just sent me this photo of four of my seven precious grandchildren. It was taken this last summer, when Carolyn, her husband Jeremy and their four children drove to Maryland to visit my oldest daughter Sharon, her husband Chris and their three children.
As I sit here in my office and feel the 24 degree below zero cold seep through the windows and walls, and watch the wind whip the bare branches of the trees and bushes outside, this sunny photo warms my heart. I love their goofiness. I love their innocence. I love that they are cousins. I love that they look so much like my daughters. I love that they also look so much like their fathers. I love their voices. I love who they are. I love who they will be. I love the God who blessed our family with these children. I love them with my whole heart. I love them with my life.
Today on this Thankful Thursday, I thank my heavenly Father for my grandchildren. These are four of the seven…4/7 of a grandma’s heart.
Can you think of anything today that you’re grateful for? Would you be willing to share? The sixty-fourth person to comment will win a mediocre prize.
Light in the dark
January 14, 2009 | My Jottings
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to your God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds shall know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
The Glory of God
January 9, 2009 | My Jottings
I have been a Christian since I was twelve years old. I began to learn about Jesus when I was three, and knew at a young age that He loved me and that I needed to look to Him for everything. Even though my life has taken some pretty ugly twists and turns, I always knew Jesus was the answer. Someday I hope to share my testimony of faith on the blog, but today I want to write about the glory of God.
I have heard people say, “Well, glory to God!”, and “To God be the glory” and other similar phrases all my life, but never really got it. Not that I was really anxious to understand what the glory of God was all about. It sounded kind of hyper-religious and old-school to me. However, I did want to learn to love and obey the God who so loved me that He would give His Son to die for my crimes against Him and others. I wanted to know more about Him. I have yearned to know His Word better. But until a couple of years ago, I didn’t give much thought to “the glory of God”.
I am finding that if our hearts are open to it, God has a way of causing the things that are important to Him to become important to us. And that is what has been happening in my life.
One of my kindest and most faithful friends, Laurel, shared a wonderful definition with me years ago about how she used to explain to her children what it meant to try to “bring glory to God.” She would tell her children that for them to glorify God meant that they needed to make sure what they said and did made Him look good to other people. That their lives would point to Him and cause Him to be praised and thought well of. I loved that definition, and have been on a slow journey ever since, wanting more and more to make my Jesus look good because of anything I do or say.
How I fail at this! But the most wonderful thing is that He has been changing my heart so that I want different things. The older I get, the more I understand how much better life is if I want what He wants. And He is becoming more precious to me, so I long to see others come to see Him for all He is too.
Not that God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth needs my help polishing His image and protecting His reputation. That’s not what bringing glory to God is all about. He isn’t interested in people glorifying Him because He has a universe-sized ego and needs the constant affirmation. He knows, in ways we can’t begin to fully understand, that when we desire to bring His beautiful character into clearer focus through our puny, blurry lives here on earth, something lasting and powerful happens. He knows what is best for me, and even though there are times my flesh disputes what He allows, I still choose Him. I trust Jesus, and ask Him daily for grace to trust Him more.
I’m reading a book called Won’t Let Go Unless You Bless Me by Andree Seu, and something she wrote touched my heart…
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” quoth Henry David Thoreau. But I know a better quote: Malcolm Muggeridge said the happiest person in the world is the woman who sweeps out her house to the glory of God…
And so I looked up some things in my Bible about this, and these three verses lit up:
Psalm 115:1 – Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. (NIV)
1 Corinthians 10:31 – So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (NIV)
Romans 12:1 – So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (The Message)
So today I am going to sweep out my house to the glory of God. I will fold the mounds of laundry for His good pleasure. I will make cole slaw, write out bills, fill a low tire, read my Bible, encourage my husband, endure what little suffering I’m experiencing, put a nice dinner in the crock pot, perhaps hold my tongue, write on this blog, pray for my family and friends, as an offering to Jesus.
No one else will see me, but He will. And He has enough pain and grief to observe with all that’s transpiring in the world today – maybe I’m strange enough to actually believe that a few simple, hidden acts done with my mind and heart set on Him, will actually bring a smile to that great Face.
The enemy of our souls works hard to make us believe the lie that “sweeping out our houses” to the glory of God makes no difference at all. I used to believe that lie.
I don’t anymore.
Praying and hoping and sweeping with you,
January 1, 2009 | My Jottings
Paying attention to what month of the year it was never meant much to me when I was growing up in Southern California. The sunshine and warmth blended from one season to another, with a little rain in between, and no one seemed weather obsessed like they are here in Minnesota.
When I moved to Minnesota in 1981 I noticed right off that everyone talked about the weather. All the time. The grocery store cashier taking my money would ask, “Still cold out there?” The neighbor spying us through the backyard fence would call in his Minnesota-very-much-like-Canada accent, “Nice day, eh?” The stranger walking his dog past our house would wave and comment, “The weatherman says it’s going to warm up tomorrow!”
I guess part of all the weather talk here is that our weather can be dangerous. When the temperature plummets to thirty degrees below zero and the winds are a-blowin’, human skin can be frostbitten in seconds. My husband Michael used to go winter camping (yes, it’s puzzling to me too) and about ten years ago he was in far northern Minnesota ice fishing and camping with good friends. They know how to dress well for this, and there are even sleeping bags made for below zero sleeping, so no matter how much I questioned the trip, no one was deterred. Piece of cake.
Well sometime during the night my husband’s thumb must have inadvertently peeked out of his sleeping bag, because when he awoke the next morning, it was grey. And painful. Michael did all the things you’re supposed to do, and kept an eye on it. When he returned from his winter camping adventure and showed me his grey thumb I was aghast. In a couple of days it had darkened to a deep charcoal color, from the top knuckle up. And the tissue on the tip of his thumb began to feel a bit stiff, not soft and yielding like normal flesh. He went to the doctor who told him yes indeed, he had suffered frostbite and the only thing to do now was to hope and pray the thumb could be saved. In a few more days the tip of Michael’s thumb turned completely black, and the tissue felt like cardboard. You could tap on it and get a small sharp sound (“tick-tick” – *shudder*). Michael endured this stoically, but I made up for the both of us by being fraught with obsessive concern about the tip of his thumb eventually falling off. About a week after the death of the tissue on the tip of his thumb, it began to peel off. Thick portions of it. Not just like thin wispy layers of dried skin, but relatively thick slabs of black, stiff, dead flesh began to pull away from behind the nail, and underneath was new, pink, very tender skin. And what was strange was that you could see fingerprints on this new skin underneath the peeling black stuff. The old fingerprints had died and turned black, but the new skin grew the same prints. At least I’m assuming they’re the same prints. So Michael’s thumb remains intact and properly hued, but it has been and apparently always will be very susceptible to freezing again. He has to protect this thumb carefully when he goes out in the cold.
So, I’ve shared all these unpleasant details to tell you why it can feel downright dangerous in Minnesota at times. And to me, January is the worst. It’s just a beastly month. January is the coldest month here, and way below zero temperatures are the norm. Two nights ago it was fourteen below zero, with windchill readings close to forty below. With conditions like this for the past twenty-eight winters here, I have become weather-obsessed like the rest of them.
Every single year I count the days until January passes into February, and then I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the nights of thirty below are probably over for another year. As I say good riddance to the first month on the calendar, the days begin to get longer, and as the temps slowly climb above zero, I actually feel a bit hopeful after a long, deep, dark, bitter January. A dangerous January.
Sometime soon I will write a post about my first spring in Northern Minnesota, after having endured my first winter. I had a very embarrassing experience due to my newness to American Siberia and my naivete about cold weather in general. I won’t divulge it all here, but let’s just say it involved being noticed by many people in the downtown area of our city, due to improper dress.
So I should come to my point and here it is: January feels dangerous to me now. It feels like life is tenuous and even in limbo for thirty-one days. It feels like we’re being stalked by something malevolent. It feels like it’s a time for us to tip-toe, hold our breath, pray our furnaces keep functioning, and wait until February comes so we can all relax again and enjoy our lives.
I have joined the ranks of the weather-obsessed and do the exact same things I found so perplexing in others years ago. I check the weather online a few times a day, looking for news of a slight warm-up. If the forecast says tomorrow will be above zero, my pulse quickens and I call to Michael in the other room and say, “It’s going to be ten degrees tomorrow!”, and he’ll say, “Aaahh, that’ll feel nice.” I also meet him at the back door and say worriedly as he takes off his coat and boots, “How is it out there?” And I take pictures of menacing four-foot icicles that hang off the roof right outside our master bedroom window, so I can put them on my blog to show you how I’m being tortured every day by this sinister thing that is a Minnesota January.
I didn’t even try to get a shot of the ones on the back of the house, because I would have had to don my many layers and it would have seemed…well, dangerous. The icicles hanging from the back of the house are as big around as a child’s waist. (Note: the presence of icicles on one’s roof signals another problem entirely – heat loss – but that is another story and it would be too traumatic to go there today).
As I was leaving the other day to run an errand, I didn’t like the look of some of these potential impalers hanging from the front roof, ready to fall when an unsuspecting person walked near. So I did something that would have made my dad laugh. He was a basketball coach, so maybe that’s why I immediately thought of grabbing a basketball and, while the van was warming up (because it’s dangerous to not warm your vehicle up in this dangerous weather), I repeatedly threw the ball as high as I could (we have a three-story house so the roof is quite high in places) to knock those huge knives of ice down. At times, in order for the ball to reach some of the higher icicles, I had to resort to the dorky, squatting, underhanded throw. I’m sure it was a nice bit of entertainment for the neighbors. How often do you think they’ve peered out their windows before to see a woman shooting a basketball over and over again in sub-zero weather, knocking colossal icicles down from her roof?
I can just hear them now as they imperceptibly part their curtains half an inch to watch… “Edgar! This neighborhood is getting dangerous. I think it’s time we move…”
Happy New Year and rabbit to you all,