Winter or The Knowledge of Cold

After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season.

Okay, okay, okay…I know what you’re all going to say about this post before I even write it. I know it hasn’t been “that” cold this season and I know that I have been here hating the misery of winter for eternity so my sudden decision to mostly embrace the misery seems almost comical. Please, let me type it all out though. February can be relentlessly long and bitterly cold, I need to have proof that I can make it. Here it is; my winter joy (thanks for that one Brooke) in 2020.

This week I initiated an outdoor activity with my children three times.

Please, do you know how amazing that is for me? First let’s remember that it is January and while the highs had been in the 20’s, I am a firm 30 degree “low” kind of girl. We have a foot or more of snow on the ground too, which is lovely to look at, but toes freeze even in boots when you’re standing around in it. One day we went out it was only 18 degrees…eighteen…who even am I?

A couple of times this winter I have asked a friend if her kids wanted to come skate at the rink near our house before open gym. The days have been mild if grey, and I was pretty confident that I’d be able to deal with the cold for the good of the children, and I did. It was only an hour and it was actually fun. Then another friend invited us to skate, we stayed out longer and I may have later whispered to my husband how much I enjoyed skating.

Cut to this week.

This past week was a hard one for me. My babygirl turns twelve in four days and that feels bigger than I am ready for. She gets to go on a great trip, one that I am firmly not ready for her to go on, which takes her away at a time of year when I need sameness. It’s been dark, cloud-covered, frigid. The littles have been bickering endlessly. The teensy has been trying to sleep better, but it’s up and down. My seasonal dip toward depression has been nearing it’s low point…plus we are closing in on a mental season that is hard for me. Six weeks from now marks a tragic anniversary that brings an almost physical weight to my body. This next month will be marked in a countdown of memory.

As you read that I want you to feel it, like really, really. This past Wednesday I was done. I had gone to my room, shut the door and lay down to cry. The endless fighting, the back talk, the rudeness in my house was too much on top of the mental load I carry around this time of year. I couldn’t do it and I knew it. I knew that I could not stay in this house with my people and make it to the end of another winter. I was angry with myself for choosing to stay here when I could have made the choice to go somewhere, anywhere, else.

And then I did it.

I wiped my eyes, mostly. I went back out to my children, told them that there were things that needed doing whether we wanted to do them or not. Then I told them to put their snow pants on. I took them to the sledding hill in town. It was the middle of the day and we had the hill to ourselves. It was gray and cold, but we slid down the hill fast and trudged back up together slowly for nearly two hours. I looked down at the teensy once and said; “who knew your momma left her smile out here in the snow?” and I almost cried again right there.

I came home that day and I knew. It all added up. There was joy out there on that hill in the snow. Joy in how we played together and laughed together. There was just as much fun in the snow as there had been hiking last Autumn. Just as many smiles as swimming in the lake last Summer. Just as much squealing as splashing in Spring rain at the end of the driveway….we were having fun. In winter. I posted to my Facebook about how odd it was, if you follow along over there you’ll know how little I post and you’ll recognize some of these photos, but I needed to get it out of my head quickly and down on paper that I really, really, had fun!

We skated again with friends on Thursday and on Friday we went back to the hill with more friends. In just three days I spent close to six hours outside. That may be more time than I have spent outdoors voluntarily in January ever. And I loved it…weird.

There was no big change. No sudden realization. It seemed like an acceptance more than anything else. This is where I choose to live. These are the people I choose to do life with every day. This (being stuck inside or feeling forced to go outside) is no way to live. It is simple survival and I do not want to model survival for my children, I want to show them how to thrive. More than that though, I actually want to thrive, not just for them, but because this is my only life, my only chance.

So I went outside.

Yes, in January and yes in the snow and yes at 18 degrees. And despite literal years of protestations; I didn’t die. I had actual fun. At the end of each of these three days I felt like the girl that I am in Summer when we are snuggled into our camper bed after a full day on a state park trail. I felt infused with joy. The fresh, cold air had filled each particle of my being. There is a great deal of grace here. Do you know? After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season. This is quite unexpected.

I know this is only a small window into my days and a minute peek into my vast wintertime experience. I know that next week there are highs forecast in the teens and my own preteen will be far away and I may feel that tug toward darkness and sadness. The desire to hide under blankets may overwhelm me once more. That’s why I had to write this down, I need to be able to see that I felt good with afternoons spent outside. Not just a little better. I didn’t just make it through the day without yelling. I wasn’t only able to survive because I got some fresh air. I was able to thrive, to lighten, to breathe…

That seems a smidge dramatic.

As a sort of closing to this ramble I am placing a challenge here. Not for you, though you could choose it for yourself as well, but a challenge for me. To continue out in all weather, regardless of it’s perceived goodness. I may be cold. I may get wet. I may not love every minute of it, but I can see now how I need it. Like really, really. Just as much as I need my toes in the dirt and the sun on my back I need the icy air in my lungs. I am not merely a child of sunshine, but of outside, I can see how being indoors wrecks me. I will give in to this knowledge and not remain stuck in the lie that inside is safe and warm and somehow better. I will force myself and my people out the door into the wider world because I am better when I am out here. There is no longer any doubt.

If you need a push to get out, may this be a gentle encouragement to you. I have honestly hated winter since childhood, if I can go out and find some sense of self, some bit of internal sunshine, then I know it can come to any of us. The winter is long dear friends, maybe we needn’t be sucked into misery for it’s duration…maybe.

Contentment

Y’all have been here for awhile. You know me. I don’t like the cold. I do not look forward to sweaters and boots. I could easily walk away from this state for several months each year and live happily (don’t worry, I’m not going to do that). Last winter was a hard one for me, I went into it with a much better attitude and I held onto that positivity well into January. The season dragged on though, it always does. Do what you will to save your own sanity; stay in Autumn until the winter solstice, reach out and grab Spring while there is still a foot of snow on the ground. The ice and snow, sub-zero temps, layers upon layers…I can not love it.

I do hope to avoid the endless slog of sadness this winter though. I’m going to make an attempt to photograph and write about the things that bring me joy. Joy on the journey; that’s sort of one of my “things”. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go, but I have some ideas. My hope is that in sharing the things that are beautiful and warm and meaningful here on this page I can stay afloat just a bit higher this year. I want to look at this winter as a season of rest, a time to nourish and refresh. Instead of as the cold, dark place in my soul that I fall into and struggle to escape.

Please understand that I will not anticipate or be loving the winter, but I’d like to do more than survive it. The last few days I’ve felt myself slipping into bad winter-time habits; hiding indoors, sending my children out while I stay in, bundling myself in with books and blankets, not stepping out around the fire on the deck for fear of the chilly bite in the air. I am not going to do this for the next six months, I am not. I mean, except for the book part…totally going to do that.

As Autumn continues to swirl the yellow leaves in my yard as opposed to swirling snow I am choosing now to look at each good thing for what it is, not at what it is not. The leaves are crunchy under my feet, my scarf is soft and warm, the sky is clearest blue…these individual joys hold merit on their own. They do not have to be made better by comparing them with the cold-that-is-not-quite-yet-here. I know this now, but I’m posting reminders on my calendar to come back and reread these words, lest I forget.

My attitude change toward winter is a hard fought battle for me, you all know. Earlier this Summer, in deciding to stay, I found that Paul’s words came to me again and again; “…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances…” (from Philippians 4). Don’t get me wrong, winter is nowhere near the conditions Paul is referring to, I get that. I will not compare my minuscule “suffering” to his. What I did do though is realize that my struggle with winter was not what God wanted from or for me. Yes, I believe He wanted to hear all of my complaints, to trust Him for a way out, to listen to His peace spoken in the still, small hours of frozen mornings. He also wanted me to learn, to grow, to not stay in that place where I could not, at least, be content regardless of the weather outside.

To be content has become my goal for the season ahead. I am reminding myself that contentment comes from Christ. I can (and oh! have I) worry over all. of. the. things., but this will bring my soul no rest. There is no contentment in my old fallback anxiety. I worry still, that I will succumb to the darkness and despair over the winter as I have in the past. In this worry I remembered some more of Paul’s words though and they reminded me how very not-alone I am. Both in my hatred of the season and in my desire to find joy in it.

“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.” (from chapter 4, verse 14)

I have an amazing circle of women who I will rely on to keep me on a positive track and who will allow me to complain a bit too. I am hopeful that they will continue to “share in my troubles” and that we will lift each other up without fear of giving too much. I will beg a lot of grace from my family when I don’t want to go out, and they remind me of these words, and I regret writing them because it means actually bundling up and going out, and they will give it because they are so, so good to me. It will be so good of all of you to share in my troubles.

Ultimately, I have no idea how to make this Minnesota winter, and the many I can see in my future, positive. I’m open to suggestions that do not involve actually going out into it! I’m looking for ideas that will be fulfilling, while remembering who I am fundamentally. So, while I will likely take the kids ice skating a handful of times, I have no desire to purchase snowmobiles or an ice fishing shack. Though I will take them sledding, I will still be happier to make the cocoa when we get home. There will be long underwear under my jeans and there will be stocking caps on my head until May, and I refuse to be happy about either, but I will choose to be content in the love and peace God continues to offer me.

My kids on the beach in South Texas last year…one of my favorite wintertime memories!