My husband Leo and I and our two boys, who were then age four and two, once lived in a small drafty house on the outskirts of a western Manitoba village where Leo was principal of the local school. One winter’s night, despite temperatures that lingered around 30 below zero, the rugged rural teenagers in his high school class coaxed him to referee one of their hockey games on an outdoor rink just across from our house. Leo was already coming down with a cold, and as I listened to skate blades scraping across the sheet of ice, interspersed with the sound of his referee’s whistle, I worried about the consequences to his health. Extremely cold air is taxing on lungs, and his were no exception.
The next evening he was admitted to a hospital 23 kilometres away with pneumonia.
Every second day I’d dress the boys in their snowsuits, boots, mittens and scarves, bundle them into the car and make the 20-minute drive over winter roads to visit Leo in the hospital. He was progressing well, but our little boys missed him terribly on the days we didn’t go, and at nights I felt alone and anxious. To compound my sense of isolation, a severe winter storm blew in.
I dreaded the thoughts of what could happen to us in a prairie blizzard. What if the faulty space heater, our only source of warmth, suddenly stopped working? Worse yet, what if the snow banked up against our door and I could not force it open to go for help? And even if I did, could I walk the quarter mile to the next house through the deep drifts? And how could I take the boys with me? They were far too young to leave alone in the house.
Weather advisories kept warning people all day not to venture out in conditions equivalent to 45 degrees below zero. That night I got the boys ready for bed and switched off the radio so I could listen to their prayers. The oldest fellow asked God to “please bring Daddy home from the hospital and make the big bad storm go away.” And with that he and his little brother confidently bounced into bed and snuggled down under the covers as if to await the answer.
His childlike trust inspired me to turn to God myself for whatever reassurance I could find under the circumstances. Instead of sitting up late listening to weather advisories, I went to bed early and sat propped against the pillows on our double bed, reading my Bible, but with one ear attuned to the space heater. In extreme cold, the oil that fuelled it would sometimes gel, plugging the line, and as the flame went out, the heater would contract with a tinkling sound that instantly alerted me to trouble. Lord, please don’t let me hear that sound tonight, of all nights. At that point I did not know that the very storm that was threatening us was also blowing a big snow drift over the fuel line to the heater, insulating it sufficiently to keep it from plugging.
While the storm buffeted our house until the dishes shuddered on the shelves and the wind howled and shrieked around the eaves, I determined to do as Psalm 4:8 directed: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for thou alone, O Lord, dost make me to dwell in safety.” Claiming that promise, I followed the example of our little boys and snuggled down under the covers and slept.
When I awoke the next morning, the wind was calm and the sunshine streaming through the windows seemed to glitter off a million diamonds encrusted in the snow-packed yard. On my last visit to the hospital, the doctor had indicated this was the day Leo would be released. But how could I go to pick him up? According to the radio, many roads were closed by metre-high snow drifts. Even if the plows were to clear the road, would our car even start in such extreme temperatures? Anxious thoughts crowded my mind as I stirred the steaming pot of porridge I was cooking for the boys’ breakfast.
As he waited, our four-year-old son Lyle, who was intrigued by anything on wheels, heard the sound of heavy motors and dragged a chair up to the window just in time to see a snow plow turn the corner, followed by a big yellow school bus. Suddenly Lyle shouted, “Daddy!”
Peering through the top part of the frosted pane, I saw the familiar figure of my husband plodding toward the house over the packed snowdrifts. Released from hospital that very morning, he had caught a ride home on the local school bus. A considerate nurse whose husband was the bus driver had phoned for him to stop at the hospital and pick Leo up.
My sense of relief was overwhelming as we gathered around the breakfast table and our two-year-old lisped grace, “God ith good. God ith great. Let uth thank him for our food.”
We were together as a family once more.
Fifty years later I am coping with another storm — the disturbing challenges of my husband’s dementia. That little boy who once peeked out the frosted window pane and exclaimed “Daddy!” is a now a man who daily peers through faith’s window and prays “Abba, Father!” in response to my anxieties. Such intercessory prayers reassure me that God will see me through this dark, stormy night. Come the morning, I am confident God will also bring me out into a clearer, calmer understanding of his love, just as he did so many years ago.
Barkman is a freelance writer who lives in Winnipeg (almabarkman.com).