Snow Blowing

As we watched a picture-perfect snowstorm out the window today, I was reminded of the snow-related care Nate put into action for our family. Before our teenage kids would drive away in a storm, he’d always check to be sure they had a snow scraper/brush in the back of their cars, often brushing them off before they got out there. He would always clean my car off, and if his schedule allowed, would volunteer to drive me wherever I needed to go, if a storm was in progress.

Our extra-long driveway was a bear to shovel, but he did more than his share, and if he was short on time, he’d still shovel a path to each car door.

He was faithful to check the windshield wiper fluid in the cars and add more to meet the fill lines, if needed. “Salty streets make for cloudy windows,” he’d say. “You don’t want to run out.”

We began thinking about buying a snow blower after shoveling that long driveway for 15 years. When a neighbor died and his widow offered to sell us his blower, Nate took her up on it. “The only thing is,” she said, “I’ll need someone to clear my driveway, too.”

That winter Nate began blowing snow off her driveway every time it was needed. He always did hers before ours, sometimes in his business suit and dress coat in the pre-dawn hours of a frigid weekday morning. Often he’d get hers finished but didn’t have time to do ours, slipping and sliding away in his sedan, on a rush to the commuter train.

I often think of Nate’s willingness to help this widow. Despite the major inconvenience of keeping her driveway “shoveled”, he never once complained about doing it. I’m ashamed to say I did complain a few times, but thankfully he just sloughed that off and remained consistent in his commitment.

Nate was duty-oriented, and since our neighbor had no one else to help her, he felt it was his duty to do so. The Bible says a great deal about widows, and God makes it clear he is pleased with those who help them. He is also pleased with those who keep whatever commitments they’ve made. God was watching Nate blow the equivalent of mountains of snow off our friend’s driveway over the years, but I don’t believe Nate was ever aware of divine approval on those icy mornings. He was simply doing the right thing, which of course is often the hardest thing.

Now I find I’m the widow needing help, and I’ve learned it’s difficult to ask. Nevertheless I’ve been surrounded by a host of friends willing to step in even before I ask, all of whom are bringing pleasure to God by helping me.

When the first big snowfall arrived outside our cottage in December, I was rummaging around in the basement looking for a snow shovel when I heard the delightful roar of a snow blower outside. Running upstairs to look, I saw our next-door-neighbor, pink-cheeked and dodging clouds of flying snow, clearing off our driveway. When I ran outside to express my enthusiasm, he smiled and said, “Well, those of us with blowers should help those who don’t have them.”

I’ll never forget the rush of feelings that came over me right then. I flashed back to Nate’s work on our neighbor’s driveway, as well as my self-centered whining about it. And I felt the difficulty of humbling myself to receive the help I needed (instead of saying, “Oh, you don’t have to do that!”) coupled with the deep gratitude I felt for my neighbor and his cheerful willingness to help the widow next door.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who… do what is right… Those who refuse to… harm their neighbors… and those who keep their promises, even when it hurts.” (Psalm 15:1-4, parts, TLB)

It was time.

Can there be any news more thrilling than the birth of a baby? Linnea and Adam’s son arrived safe and sound today, one week overdue but by God’s calendar exactly on time. Plump and adorable at 8 pounds 13 ounces, Micah Nathan came rushing into the world after a short labor without drugs or complications.

When Linnea’s call came through, I was transferring groceries from my cart to the car, on a 24 degree day, and when she told me they’d chosen Nate’s name as part of Micah’s, I broke down and cried. I don’t even know why. The elderly gentleman getting into the car next to mine became alarmed and came over to help me with my cart. But he needn’t have worried. My tears were of joy!

The name Nathan means “God has given,” and oh how true that is with this little boy. The interesting part is that God first gave this surprising pregnancy, than took Nate away, then gave little Nathan. Our Lord is on the move, and we are following him, doing our best to keep up!

This side of heaven, Micah will not meet the grandpa who shares his name, but we’ll have a good time telling him stories that will allow the two of them to meet in memories. I grew up knowing only one out of four grandparents. Micah will have the blessing of knowing three out of four, all of whom have prayed for him and loved him thoroughly from well before today’s earthly debut.

Every new baby is a gift from God. I believe becoming pregnant is a miracle each and every time. God created the first human being, a man with the same name as our son-in-law Adam, by starting with his hands, using the dust of the earth. (Oh, how I would love to have watched that process!) After looking over his work, he decided to breathe a life and soul into that hand-made body, and I believe he does it that way still, at every single conception. No life is purely biological, and no life is an accident, which includes “unplanned pregnancies.” Each one is the result of divine intervention and the plan behind it.

Micah Nathan is a creation of God, brought to the earth at this exact time for specific purposes that will only become known as his life unfolds day by day and year upon year. The full-circle verses are on my mind today as I picture Micah surrounded by the One who made him… because that One has gone before, will go alongside, will hover over, will support from beneath and will come behind Micah. I will be praying this child will delight in that place of security from a very young age.

My mind has spent this happy day flitting back and forth between Nate and Micah Nathan. Mom used to get close to the face of every newborn and coo, “You are precious because you were so recently with God.”

I’m not sure where she got that theology, but the concept of God’s personal touch on a baby is accurate. Stretching it one step further, I could coo to Micah, “As you left heaven to come to earth, did you see your grandpa?”

Of course that’s just the stuff of greeting cards, but as I’ve thought about Nate, unable to meet his little namesake, I’m wondering if maybe he knows all about him. It would be just like the Lord to let Nate share in the celebration of this day, from right there in paradise.

“The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul. You [Lord] go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” (Genesis 2:7, Psalm 139:5)

Help Yourself to Happiness

It was 11:45 PM on a sub-zero February night, and I was pushing a loaded cart through a 24-hour grocery store. The day had been so jam-packed with five children and their needs, I hadn’t had time to shop. But we were out of everything, and it had to be done.

Even though all the kids were in bed, Nate volunteered to wait up for me, a selfless act for a guy who got up with a 5:00 AM alarm. “The least I can do is help you unload.” He may have been wondering why I was so inefficient with my day that I had to get groceries at midnight, but he didn’t say so.

The weather had been below zero for a record number of days in Chicago. It was the kind of cold that made your nose stick together when you sniffed.

As I turned down our street, I regretted our long driveway and the house-length distance from the car to the kitchen but then got an idea. The ground was ice-solid, so as I turned in the driveway, I drove right onto the front lawn and pulled up to within inches of the kitchen porch steps. This translated to fewer steps for Nate and I, fewer minutes out in the freezing cold and more minutes asleep.

I wasn’t sure how Nate would respond to my idea, and when he opened the kitchen door, he had alarm written all over him, as if my brakes had failed and I’d nearly mowed down the porch. But I jumped out of the car saying, “Good idea, huh?” If nothing else, it was efficient.

I tell this little story because it’s one of thousands of funny memories Nate and I shared, and every couple has a catalog of these, beginning with when they met. The recalling of past couple-comedy or even couple-drama can be the glue that holds two people together if they’re falling apart.

When Nate was in the thick of fighting it out with cancer, we found it beneficial to talk away from it. Discussing symptoms, pain levels and med doses was only troubling, and we both knew we were headed nowhere good. But looking back to the silly stories of our couple-history became a happy diversion that brought smiles rather than apprehension. It became a game to come up with something we hadn’t thought of in years.

When present day life offered nothing but misery, stepping out of it to go back to better days was nourishing and even healing. Memories couldn’t heal Nate’s infected organs, but they were a balm to a different kind of “insides”.

We’ve all heard marriage counselors advise troubled couples to look back on their early relationship for the reasons they fell in love. Life complicates for all of us as the years pass, piling debris between husbands and wives until it’s impossible to climb over it to touch each other. Remembering the silly or risky or crazy days of former years helps sweep away some of the rubble of current woes.

Nate and I found that recounting one memory often triggered another. We could spend thirty light-hearted minutes daisy-chaining happy times together, giggling, smiling, touching one another across the debris of cancer between us.

This can also work for physically healthy couples who find their marriages ailing. Although none of us can erase the past to get that proverbial clean slate, shared memories of earlier days together can bring fresh perspective to today’s troubles. In remembering we can sometimes reclaim some of that original joy.

After Nate and I had unloaded the groceries that cold February night, he pulled the car back over the lawn and onto the driveway where it belonged. When he came in, he did a little recollecting even that night. “Remember when you did fly off the driveway and smash into the porch by the front door? That’s what I was thinking when I saw you coming across the lawn tonight.”

We laughed then, and we laughed 15 years later about the same incident during Nate’s cancer, enjoying looking back at a memory we’d shared.

“Rejoice with the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18b)