Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lessons from a Snowflake

Snow. What does that word bring to mind?

For many this winter, especially in the Northeast, which has experienced one blizzard after another in rapid succession, snow has meant endless shoveling, power outages, collapsed roofs, pileups on roadways, canceled school, rescheduled appointments, inconvenience. Even though I grew up in Alaska, where the first snow might come in September and stay until April or May, I must confess that even I am growing tired of so much snow this winter. 

I have many fond memories of snow: bundling up in snowsuits to play in the snow, building snowmen, and snow forts, making snow angels, tromping through deep snow to search for just the right Christmas tree. I remember one Christmas Day while we lived in Juneau, the capital and largest city in Southeast Alaska, that the snow-covered mountains looked like strawberry ice cream cones. The sun rose mid-morning and set by mid-afternoon that time of year. The days were short, but the twilight lingered before the long night fell. (The sun made up for its brief appearances later. In the summer it rose in the wee hours of the morning and didn't set until after bedtime.)

Lots of snow fell during those years in Juneau. But school was never cancelled. We pulled on pants under our dresses, bundled up in coats and scarves, and walked on sidewalks that often weren't shoveled. It was great fun--usually. One time, hurricane-force Taku winds that blew off the 
Taku Glacier picked me up and set me down in waist-deep snow in a driveway that slanted down from the street to the garage door. Getting out was quite a struggle for this third-grader.

Another time instead of walking down many flights of stairs over a big hill to the school building below, we slid over the hill on cardboard. Great fun--until the time I landed at the bottom on a rusty nail sticking out of a board. It punctured my thigh and bloodied my clothes. My teacher had to apply first aid. After that, I was more cautious.

My first year of college I attended Seattle Pacific College in Seattle, Washington. All it did that year was rain. I missed the snow so much that my grandma sent me a large framed photograph of a snowy scene to hang on my wall. The mid-May day I graduated with my BA degree from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, however, it snowed as we lined up in our caps and gowns outside to enter the gymnasium where the ceremonies were held.

So what lessons can we learn from snowflakes?

Wilson A Bentley photographs of snowflakes under a microscope.
He photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes.
A snowflake begins when a tiny dust or pollen particle comes into contact with water vapor high in Earth's atmosphere. Water vapor coats the tiny particle and freezes into a tiny ice crystal from which a snowflake will grow. Dust is not one of my favorite things. It makes me sneeze. I have spent a lot of time trying to keep my house dust free. Snowflakes remind me that even irritants can be God's means of creating something beautiful of my life if I allow Him to.

Since the tiny crystal is heavier than air, it begins to fall toward Earth. As it plunges through humid air, more water vapor freezes onto its surface. The snowflake grows larger and larger. Although all snowflakes have a hexagonal shape, different temperatures and humidity through which each one falls makes each snowflake different. Likewise, God can use all the experiences and trials I go through in my life to further transform me into a unique person He can use for His purposes.

Whether the snowflake will arrive at Earth's surface as snow, sleet, or freezing rain is determined by the temperatures at various levels and at the surface. The snowflake has no control over its response to the temperatures. That is controlled by the laws of nature. But I have a choice how I respond to the hardships that come my way. I can become better or bitter. 

If a lone snowflake falls to the ground, it quickly melts. If the conditions are right, though, the snowflake joins others to pile up into a measurable snowfall. That reminds me that more can be accomplished together than anyone can do alone. Just as we need each other, snow is necessary for agriculture. It prepares the fields for spring planting. Out West, mountain snow is essential for irrigation. This year while the Northeast is enduring record snowfalls, the West is experiencing springlike conditions. My dad, who lives in Central Washington, keeps reminding me that if they don't get enough snow this winter, there will be shortages of water for irrigation and high danger of forest fires this summer. 

To me, one of the most beautiful sights is winter's dazzling snowy dress. The silence of falling snow reminds me of Christmas, when we celebrate "how silently the wondrous gift" of God's Son was given to a world in darkness. The way newly fallen snow covers up the barren, grimy landscape devoid of greenery and leaves recalls to my mind God's words through Isaiah, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (1:18). It reminds me that when I confess my sins, God washes me "whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).

Next time it snows, I hope we will not be overwhelmed with the work and inconvenience but will appreciate the lessons from a snowflake. While the snow seems unending this year, we know that spring will come.

What lesson does snow teach you? 

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