In upstate New York, where I spent most of my childhood, winter claimed our town early and with a vengeance. Sometimes the first snow came around Halloween, and I recall more than one season where we didn't see a blade of grass from Thanksgiving until April.
The way I walked to school started with a path from our side door, through our back yard. It was a winter ritual to try to navigate that path often enough to pack it down to an icy base while the snowbanks on each side grew higher with each snowy blast. Another ritual was to try to get through an entire winter without falling down on the ice.
I vividly remember the comical way our arms and feet would flail as our inborn inertial guidance systems would try to compensate for those wintry slides. We were often amazed to find ourselves still standing, only to let down our guards and fall smack on our backs an instant later.
We made an effort to throw shoveled snow from the driveway into a single pile we would tunnel into for a spacious snow fort. I remember easily fitting four or five friends inside.
Upstate New York offers those sub-zero mornings when your nostrils slam shut with the first intake of breath; when you speak with rubbery lips as if you'd just returned from the dentist's more-humane numbing; when you risk scalding yourself trying to warm senseless hands under the hot-water spigot.
But spring, oh spring! Crocuses cast their blooms from thin patches of grass still surrounded by snowbanks. Snow melt chortles through still invisible storm drains. The March sun is magnified a hundred times by the whiteness that still grips the earth.
School children triumphantly peel off their overcoats and tie them around their waists to celebrate temperatures ... in the 40s. The wet snow makes perfect conditions for the final snowball fights of the season (although someone always packs a few in the freezer for the surprise attack in July).
I've lived a few other places since leaving upstate New York, and I'm convinced that the extremes are what makes spring special there. In Raleigh, N.C., where I live these days, it might be 80 degrees in mid December. I once played beach volleyball, barefoot and shirtless, on New Year's Day.
Spring enters that arena by stealth. One day you say, "Boy, it's been warm for seven days straight. Must be spring!" Barring a late-season ice storm, you are usually right, but you're not particularly impressed by the realization.
I've seen a similar thing among people in their walks with God.
I recently heard a man speaking about his faith journey. He had been abused as a child. He'd fallen in with an inner-city gang. He'd killed someone in a hazy moment obscured by alcohol and crack. He'd been on death row. And that's where Jesus found him.
To hear this man praising Jesus is like listening to a chorus of angels. His enthusiasm cannot be contained. He is like the crocus cracking through the ice when it hears spring say "Come."
This man has seen the power of God break the chains of addiction like the blazing March sun burning through snowbanks. He has felt the miracle of finding himself standing with Christ after many years of comical flailing in his own strength.
He is in awe of God's forgiveness because he is vividly aware of how little he deserves it.
In a way, he is to be envied.
Most of us have lived spiritually in the sunny South instead of the frozen North. That makes it a little harder to see the miraculous rebirth of spring when Jesus comes into our lives.
We need to remember that sin is sin, just as snow is snow. None of us is more deserving of God's grace -- or less deserving -- than the murderer who gave that witness talk.
In some ways, our walk is more difficult than his. We are much more tempted to believe we can make it on our own, that God is just someone we call on when things go wrong.
The real danger is, secure in our mild winter, we might postpone calling on Christ at all.
Sooner or later, winter will return to all of us. We need to be ready, whether it comes on Halloween -- or Christmas Day.
Another great inspirational story, Al. Very well told. Unless we talk to God daily about everything that is going on, it is as you said easy to leave Him out and continue on our own. He is an awesome God who loves to talk with His children - every day and in every way. Thanks for the message and God bless you in your ministry. Are you still ministering to those in prison?
I tell you, in tears, that I was terribly in need of this word today. The Lord bless you, Al. Here in Texas, winter IS spring. But I do know "winter." And I do know "spring." In fact, I know it all so well that I might as well live in New York. But then again, He's the same God, no matter where we lay our heads.