It was a snowy Boxing Day about 10 years ago when I took my kids sledding to a hill not far from our home. The kids were excited to “hit the slopes” that afternoon and to sail down the hill at great speeds.
The second we got to the top, Nathan jumped on his sled and began the first of what must have been 50 downhill descents. Jenna, who was only 5 at the time, took as many turns as her little legs could endure. The work was doubly tough for a small child like Jenna, but nothing was going to detract her from the fun, no matter how tired she was getting. Occasionally Jenna would stay at the bottom and beg me to carry her back up the hill for another thrilling run. I obliged and Nathan, who was also beginning to fade, sometimes begged me to pull him back to the top too.
The snow was falling gently when we first arrived, but as the afternoon wore on, the snow fell with greater fullness. That signalled it was time to leave. Besides, the kids were exhausted. Winter seemed to take exception to our departure, as the wind began to blow with greater speed.
Does winter somehow lament when children return indoors? Winter’s only outdoor company would be leafless tree branches that bend to the will of its wind. Not much fun in that, but when children come out to play in its cold, winter delights in their company, leaving rosy kisses on their cheeks.
Our car was parked a fair distance from the hill, which meant a laborious journey into the teeth of the increasing northeast wind. Now it was getting personal. The wind, if it was begging us to stay, could have been a little more hospitable. The deep snow was getting too much for Jenna to plod through. Nathan trudged his way through and left me with the sleds.
Jenna and I had a more difficult time. I carried the toboggans while coaxing Jenna to keep going. She complained with each step she took, exclaiming she was too tired to go forward. Finally, in utter exasperation, frustration and fatigue, Jenna stopped and declared, “Daddy, I’m too tired! I’m not walking any longer. I’m staying right here!” She had reached the limit of her endurance.
Was she seriously going to just stay there? I told her to walk behind me and, like Good King Wenceslaus, said, “Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.” Jenna wasn’t impressed by my wit, and remained fixed at her position. “No Dad! You’re going to have to get me, or I’m just going to stay here for the rest of the winter.”
For a few seconds I simply watched Jenna where she stood, in the depths of the snow, while the wind was getting more frenzied. I dropped the sleds, picked her up and carried her the remainder of the way.
What goes on in the mind of a five-year-old? Jenna can be fiercely defensive of her position, and her tenacity, when she wants something, is still intense, even at 14. She has calmed considerably since then, yet shades of her five-year-old ferocity and determination still occasionally come through. Jenna has a passionate will, and those traits will serve her well throughout the storms of her winter seasons in life.
Jenna knew I wasn’t going to let her stay where she was. There was a trust and a faith that I was going to come and get her. Her body went limp as I carried her to the car. I could feel it relax, even through her bulky snowsuit. She intimately knew she was safe in my arms.
How many times do we become overwhelmed by life’s cold and unrelenting wind? There are times when we can’t muster the strength or the courage to keep moving, and we’d rather just stay where we are. Immobile. Immovable. It’s sometimes too much effort to trudge through life’s snow banks because the drifts are too deep and our exhaustion is too great. Do we have that hope or faith or trust that someone is waiting and willing to pick us up and bring us home? What father would leave his child alone to face the harsh elements of winter?
We are promised that we will never be forsaken. We will never be forgotten. We will never be left to fend for ourselves, and our reward will be far greater than the hot chocolate and marshmallows Jenna and Nathan enjoyed when we finally got home that day.
Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.