We’ve had no snow this year, and I can’t begin to tell you how heartbreaking that is for me. But last week, my sweet husband took me up to the mountains. Valentine’s Day was coming, and we needed a few days to ourselves, and he knew I was missing snow. So he surprised me with two nights in Leavenworth, a Bavarian village tucked up past Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains. We packed up the car and drove east to Monroe, where we stopped and bought gas station coffee to go with the cranberry-orange dark chocolate bars I’d brought along. Once we left Monroe behind us, the Skykomish River began to show itself between the trees. We passed through the little towns of Sultan, Startup, Gold Bar and Index, and I wondered — as I do every time I drive past those places — what it is like to live in a town where most everyone is flying by, and hardly anyone ever stops.
We didn’t see snow until we passed the historic logging town of Skykomish, the last civilized spot before you begin to tackle the mountains. Little patches of snow began to show along the river, and tucked around the waterfalls. Then bigger patches, and then whole long stretches, and then … nothing but cold beauty; a pristine landscape of white.
While staring and sighing and thanking God that He had the foresight to create something so spectacular, I had a memory of another time. I remembered when, as children, my sisters and I would wake to a new, white world and shiver in delight and anticipation. The front yard was up for grabs, and we’d waste no time tearing it up. But we guarded our backyard from fun-seeking friends. “Don’t step on the snow!” we’d order. We weren’t very old; I was probably eleven and my younger sisters eight and four. Our friends would look at us oddly. Snow is for trampling, I could all but hear them thinking. What’s wrong with the three of you? When they’d persist, describing the snow angels we could make out there, or the snowmen we could build, the three of us would growl. “The backyard is off limits!” I don’t remember ever meeting for planning discussions or analyzing why this was so important to us. We just knew. We knew on a unified level. At least in that one area of the world — an area we could control with fenced-in protection — the snow must remain untouched and pure.
I never understood the origin of all that fervor until it dawned on me recently that this was our way of controlling at least one small something in our world. This was our way of staking a square bit of peace — where no chaos reigned, where no bumps showed, where nothing got trampled or messed or ruined.
Our lives back then were in constant flux. We never knew how soon we’d move again, or how much food we’d find in the cupboards, or who might come along and trade their last name for the rights to our mother’s bedroom, or what craziness might next tip our world. Nothing made sense, nothing was predictable. But when the snows came, and created a landscape of pure, unsullied beauty — ours for the taking — we guarded it with a fierceness you don’t often find in the young.
I’m all grown up now, and I’ve learned that it’s only possible to keep your backyard untouched if you permit no people in your life. As the scriptures say, “Where no oxen are, the stalls are clean.”
Well, no one can accuse me of being oxen-less. My stall is a mess. In keeping with my metaphor, you might say that my backyard is a no longer off-limits. The gate to our backyard is open, you see — wide open. I’m a pastor’s wife and a mother. And I belong to Jesus now. My life is not my own; I’ve been bought with a price. So there’s no sense trying to keep the gate shut. I can’t guard it twenty-four hours a day; I don’t even have that right. People straggle in, or sometimes crawl. They dance in, they burst in, they tiptoe. They claim favored parcels and far corners, and unpack their baggage. Like it or not, the snow gets trampled. Once settled, the gloves go on and the snowballs start flying. Sometimes they’re aimed at fellow yard-dwellers; sometimes they’re aimed at me.
My backyard now is littered with footsteps, the trails of those who have come seeking refuge and acceptance, grace and hope. Here and there, spots of purity still wait, untouched and undisturbed. All the rest is crisscrossed with the evidence of life and activity and chaos.
But oh, the angels we have made together.
Header photo by www.cascademountain.com