Parenting During the Winter, Part 1

January 15, 2020

Hi, guys! How’s your week going? Mine is going pretty well.

I have a different type of post for you today. A few months back, I wrote an article that I was hoping would be posted in this magazine. To be perfectly honest, I was really proud of my writing here, don’t judge me, and really thought it would be picked up.

Imagine my disappointment when it wasn’t. Oh, well, their loss.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what topics and life experiences I have that others might want to hear about or ones that might help others, and I thought about this article. It’s about the complicated business of parenting.

Let me set the scene for you, because if I don’t you might think I was a little off my rocker when I wrote this, and, you know, maybe I was or am or whatever. The magazine I submitted this article to contains pieces on joy and this article was to be published in the winter edition – you will see the not-so-subtle winter references immediately, but I still think it works, since it’s winter and all. Uh, in most places, if not here.

Also, I do have a little kicker for you: to find out what has happened SINCE I wrote this article, you need to tune in to my podcast, Life…It Happens on Friday – that part is going to be the BEST part! So, read this for now, then join in on Friday for my podcast!

Here you go…

Accidental Joy

A lot of people I know don’t really enjoy winter. This is a bit of a surprise to me, since we live in an area of Texas where summer always reminds me to make sure I make it to heaven. Anyway, many people just see winter as a cold, harsh time of year, with little-to-no-growth in nature or anywhere else. Winter can be bleak, with little sunshine and a sort of biting, almost painful and uncomfortable feeling. Well, experiencing winter is not only a matter of weather.

Have you ever been through a winter season spiritually or emotionally? I’ll bet you have. It may be a beautiful spring day or a hot, fun summer day outside, but in your heart, in your mind, it’s winter: harsh, cold, painful, uncomfortable. And, the one thing you know for sure is that you want this season of your life to change. You want to see the sun, you don’t want to be afraid to go out into the cold world, where you’re sure to be disappointed, or worse – to be a disappointment.

Winter times come into our lives for all sorts of reasons. Often, it’s “just life,” as they say. Whatever the reason, winter has made its frosty appearance, and with it come all kinds of emotions: fear, insecurity, shame, the sting of defeat; feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness and failure. You don’t feel like venturing out from the safety of your own home, afraid to open yourself up to the certain judgment or just plain misunderstanding from those who get a glimpse of your situation. Yes, it’s winter and you just long for spring.

My son has gone through a winter season in his life just recently. Yep, last July it was 100 degrees here in Texas, but he felt chilled to the bone due to some unforeseeable circumstances. He was 22, graduating from college, and in a matter of months, an avalanche of events occurred that left him completely shaken to his core. He was rejected from all 10 of the elite MFA schools he applied to and a 3-year-relationship ended very abruptly and painfully. To add insult to injury in the truest sense of the words, he’d been struggling with a physical issue that, just like the snow in much of the north, should have been short-lived; come, and gone. Yet, it lingered on. Now, this young man can only be described, even through my obvious bias, as a great young man – he loves Jesus, he’s kind, he’s smart, he works hard and had a great plan for his life – until winter set in.

I would love to tell you that, through this process, I was like an evergreen tree – beautiful, graceful, rooted, strong and unwavering, gently serving as a landmark for my son, helping him find his way, but THAT, my friends, would be a lie. No, behind closed doors, I cried many tears, I prayed many “God, if you will just do this for him, I’ll never ask for another thing” prayers. I felt angry and raised my voice in a resounding “WHY?” many, many times. See, as mothers, when our kids are experiencing winter, so are we. Sure, I could go outside and warm up, but the sad fact is that the chill remained.

So, during those months, my interactions with my child were stranger than ever. I slid around in conversation with him between giving unsolicited advice to giving, also unsolicited, pep talks. He listened, but with glazed-over eyes, mostly. See, I remember being 22. At 22, you’re not expecting frost-biting “Nos,” or icy “Good-byes.” You’re expecting Christmas morning, with the snow beautifully sitting on the tree branches, with smoke wafting innocently from the chimney of your home in the mountains. You just don’t have enough life experiences yet to prepare you for the worst. So, when you get the 5-day blizzard that knocks out the electricity for 2 weeks and the snow is so high that you can’t see your way through it, it’s quite a shock. Frankly, it’s pretty devastating. All of his friends had moved on to summer – leaving for jobs and grad school programs, but he was stuck in winter. He felt inadequate, thrown aside; he saw himself as a failure.

He’d been home for several weeks and most of that time I just tried to act like it was summer: trying to have fun, enjoying a break from studying, whatever, but the truth is, we were hibernating; taking a nap from real life. We hadn’t laughed as much as we normally did, we hadn’t gone to the places we normally go, we just stayed home, sleepy, trying desperately to think of something to talk about that didn’t have anything to do with this winter season of his life.

But one day was different – completely unplanned, unforeseen; an accident, really.

Have you ever been driving outside the city, through a stretch of woods or meadows and, despite the harsh effects of winter, one little plant of some sort is still standing: colorful, strong, a sharp contrast to its bleak surroundings? That little plant reminds me of that day last summer.

My family has always been big sports enthusiasts, and my son is a definite product of that environment. We were watching a tennis match that was part of the infamous Wimbledon Tournament. Our favorite player was playing, a guy who is much older than he plays, all heart, with great talent. We were so into the match! It was thrilling, very competitive, and my fingernails were getting shorter and shorter by the minute. At one point, our guy looked like he had been overtaken by an enormous snowball – trapped, with no hope – then just like when a gentle, westerly breeze blows through, things turned around and we just knew our guy was going to prevail. My son and I were jumping up and down, shrieking, high-fiving and doing some dancing! We were overjoyed! For about two hours that day, we forgot all about winter. And, in those moments the thought came to me:

“Life is still possible in the middle of the harshest winter. Joy can still be found in the midst of great sorrow.”

Was anything different in my son’s world after the tennis match? No, things were still unsettled and uncertain; he was still disappointed and hurting. But, like that little plant, with winter closing in on all sides, he was determined to live, to get excited, to rejoice. I realized that for all of our trying to hurry through the winter times in our lives, minimizing its effects, we CAN choose to embrace it, learn from it and be better because of it. Is it easy? Heck, no! But, like I’ve told my son, (probably much more often than I should), I know there are things I have learned about life, about myself and about God that I couldn’t have learned in any other season except winter. And, maybe more importantly, winter will end – we just have to be patient and believe. Be patient, believe and be willing to walk through it and treasure the lessons we learn from it.

The story of Job has always been an enigma to me. I mean, as a Believer, I sure hope God doesn’t decide to allow ME to be tested like Job and I definitely don’t want Him to allow anyone I love to be tested in that way, either. But you have to hand it to Job – in the end, he got it right. Check out some of his most famous words in Job 19:25-27,

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (ESV)

If anyone I’ve ever heard about, in the Bible or otherwise, was going through a winter season of life, it was poor, beaten-up-and-battered, Job. Yet, even when he’d lost everything and everyone around him advised him to give up on God, curse Him and just die already, Job did the best and only thing he knew to do: he kept his eyes on and his faith in God. The thing is, when we struggle through the winter seasons of our lives, God is our only hope. After 30+ years of navigating through life as an adult, I can say, without hesitation: God is my hope. He’s my hope during the winter and He’s my joy when winter finally surrenders to spring – and it always does. It did for Job and it certainly will for me, for my son and for you!

Yes, winter will pass, and even though it can be hard to see any new growth at all during winter, what’s happening “under the ground,” out of our natural line of vision, will eventually burst forth. Flowers will bloom, baby animals will be born, new doors will open. We can only have spring because of what happens during the winter. God is still with us, working on our behalf in the winter seasons of our lives. He is ever ready to walk the snowed-over path with us, stepping first, to make steady and sure our way forward.

So, if it’s winter for you, in both the physical season as well as emotionally or spiritually, do not be afraid! It may seem cold, harsh and foreboding, but your God has you. Even when you can’t see it, God is at work in your life. His timing is never late, but it’s also never early; His answer, direction, healing and comfort will come just at the right time. If doors are closing, new ones will open; if relationships have ended, new ones are on the horizon; if problems are closing in on you, God will be your Protector and your Defender! Rely on Him, trust Him through it all and remember this truth:there are treasures waiting for us that only the winter can bring.

and above all else love