For whatever weeks remain of these dark-early days, the stars will shy through the dusk one by one before dinnertime, and we can greet each slow-emerging twinkle out our back window as the soup simmers. Sunsets and stargazing well before bedtime: winter days close spectacular, but silent. We can forget and miss it; or we can slow down to watch the light fade, then scatter into countless brilliance across the night sky.
It’s mid-February in my first winter winter. You know, the winter winter that people warn you about when you move to the Northeast. The winter winter you see deep in a person’s eyes when they say “North Carolina? I’d just love to live there someday,” or “California? The weather there is amazing.” And you assure them you’re so glad to be in Pennsylvania. You fight back your doubts as autumn colors and fades, and Advent passes, and holiday lights are stuffed back into boxes. What if I can’t handle this impending cold, these months of dark and quiet?
Truth: even in sunny California I suffered from seasonal depression. Brains like mine overly rely on endorphins from sunlight and exercise, and in winter winter those resources are scarce. To be honest, moving here I initially expected winter to be one long countdown, hopes hinged on a groundhog’s oversight and perhaps a night ski or two if we could swing it. So as we unpacked and made this home, I conducted informal interviews with nearly everyone I could find. You’ve lived here your whole life? Please teach me how to love it. How do you survive winter? What do people DO when it’s cold?
(Most answers ranged between “I’m used to it by now,” and “winter is introvert heaven!” which set this unaccustomed extrovert on a slightly steep learning curve.)
I also took interest in this lovely Danish concept called hygge that’s been trending in the U.S. this year: the word refers to coziness; the essence of a warm, laughter-filled fireside evening in from the cold. It struck me that cozy can only be had in winter. We try to do it in California, but it doesn’t really compare unless you happen to be slopeside in a pricy lodge, or snuggled with a fluffy retriever after a frigid sunrise jog. But only winter winter is conducive to the lasting, daily coziness which can become the ambiance of a whole season’s wonder.
And I’m learning it, now: peering into the cold and gray to find the burning glow of beauty, intimacy, joy.
Yesterday the Lord stopped me in my snowy tracks to show it: my family silhouetted against vivid sunset, reds and violets shimmering off the powder-sleek landscape while two small, wool-warmed heads bobbed happily in their daddy’s snow tube. All their voices met my ears at once, laughing in their respective octaves and breathless with deep, full delight.
Something about delight is so threatening to the enemy of my soul that he endeavors all day to steal it.
Often it works.
Theft sneaks in through that whisper of boredom or monotony, flattening mama moments; or through that throb of meaninglessness and fatigue, that angry hum of impatience. So often I believe the lie, and I get busy. I start scheduling, arranging lists and organizing finances, errands, chores — those Things I Need To Do. Things That Matter. Meanwhile, my daughter is at the window counting snowflakes, noticing their handcrafted intricacies for the first time; my toddler son is piling couch cushions into heaps and belly-flopping onto them, thrilled at free falls and soft landings.
Two pieces I read this month invited me to pause and reconsider my relationship with time, and with the mundane. Words that invited me to live slower, and appreciate the distance between my children’s perspectives and my own – as well as a perspective that’s gradually growing within me and will soon overcome my present one, begging life for a “pause” button, begging earth to stall its grueling spin. Where did the time go? I’ll soon ask. Those years just flew by.
Two summers ago (in a southern summer that rivaled winter in rendering the outdoors unbearable) I wrote a list on folded paper that still lives on my fridge. Today’s Possibilities, it says – a celebration of options for our day, consisting of things like water balloons, sidewalk chalk, trail wandering, and bubble wrap dance parties. It’s my ongoing battle against those lies that nag my mama heart to wish time away, to miss those joy-to-the-brim details of This Day. To worry, to chase after the wind.
So I’m writing a winter version. Winter’s Possibilities. Because these gray months can mean weeks with no glimpse of sun; short days that are often dark before you even appreciated the light; and this year, the cold was harsh but the snow was rare. I should be longing for spring, for chipper daffodils and long-lit afternoons; but I’m learning to love this day. I’m learning to live grateful, to pause and smile. And somehow, now, I’m not eager at all for it to end.
The new list on my fridge begins, of course, with the rare occasion of a good snow, when we’ll layer our tots into lumpy snowbundles and lead their pink-cheeked faces to the park. They’ll slide exhilarated down big hills and mash deep bootprints into soft powder. We’ll notice how the creek wraps dark and shining through the snowy trees, and we’ll huddle in awe beneath thousands of geese when they cross overhead in droves, trumpet-calling each other over the wind on their way to today’s home. And on those stiller days when there isn’t snow to lure us out, we’ll watch for them anyway. The Canada geese fly over every day these months, we’ve learned. I’ll see my children stopped at a window, waving to them, and we’ll hear their distant calls and my tiniest’s airy “bye-bye” as they fade off to gray-blue. I’ll watch chubby hands learn to place jigsaw pieces together, to flatten game boards, to hold mugs of cocoa and to take the coats of chilly friends when they come through our door. We’ll stage sockball fights in our living room and build blanket forts wherever we can; we’ll dance our heart rates high in the basement and sing, spin, and somersault until we’re a dizzy, belly-laughing heap. We’ll make music for hours and read long, familiar stories.
In winter winter, every nook becomes a hiding place, every spare second an invitation for silly, for simple. This day lets us dream about the haven we want this home to be; and the refuge we hope to offer each other. This day slows us and stays us so we can start building those things together.
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.