The Long Winter

Homemade butter. Bonnets. The fiddle by the fire. Your own pony, Pet or Patty. Adventure, life lessons and living with your sisters in a little house on the prairie while frolicking in the fields with your dog, Jack — what could be better? Well, maybe Michael Landon for a Dad with his hair flowing in the wind and his smile flashing wide with a belly laugh after you started an accidental fire in the barn.


For anyone growing up in the ‘70s, Little House on the Prairie tv show was all the rage. Add to that a voracious reader of the iconic book series and I was sure that I had been born in the wrong era. I daydreamed of being a pioneer girl. Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired me to write. Nellie could have her blonde curls, this brunette was bound to find me an Almanzo and live off the land.


It didn’t quite happen that way. I grew up — as did Melissa Gilbert — and life in the 1980’s got a lot more complicated than it was on a tv show characterizing the 1880’s. Though Michael Landon was a great tv Dad, he didn’t even barely resemble the real Pa Ingalls. He left the tv series leaving Laura behind and the real Pa would have never done that to Half-Pint.


The real Pa (Charles) Ingalls, public domain

It seemed that Little House had moved and I wasn’t bitter, disenfranchised or unhappy about it because I had read the books. And the books are always better than the ‘made for tv’ adaptations (cue nerdy discussion about all things related to this topic). In this case, author Laura Ingalls Wilder was a real person writing about real memories and telling true stories unlike the tv version. I could hang my bonnet on that.

With that, as a young homeschooling Mom, I absolutely adored introducing our daughters to the Little House on the Prairie book series in their first grade. It would be our best unit of education ever. My heart is skipping a beat, remembering, even as I write. Homemade butter. Bonnets. The fiddle by the fire. But this time I get to be ‘Ma’ and teach all the life lessons and ignite all the adventure.


Read-alouds turned to independent reading by the time we got to The Long Winter. One, even ‘Ma’ thought it was slow and boring and that.it.would.never.end. Two, see one. Three, it was good for my little pioneer girls to trudge through that snow-filled book. It was proper to have them understand the cruel realities of life in that era — nearly starving to death on the plains because of blizzard after blizzard, heavy snow after heavy snow, freezing conditions and low rations. It was good for them to read the Source of the family's strength and the community of friends that supported the Ingalls in the frigid life-threatening months.

"The snow, though glistening and white brought wind and peril too. The snow, though beautiful and freshly fallen, never seemed to end. " (The Long Winter, Wilder)

This week’s snowy weather reminded me of a poem I wrote in 1989 shortly after my personal ‘long winter’ which is reminiscent to a ‘long night of the soul’. It’s funny how a poet memorizes phrases from their poetry that are forever etched into their experience. Whenever it snows, I seem to randomly quote this poem in a corner of my mind.


It is a common turn of phrase in Christian circles to talk about the Lord washing us ‘white as snow’. This is a scriptural reference to Psalm 51:7, '... Cleanse me and I will be whiter than snow’. King David is pleading in the aftermath of his sin against Bathsheba, his killing of her husband and his cover up of both.


I wonder what the God of the universe uses to get stains out? Does He shout? Does He spray & wash? Does He carry a bleach pen? What does He use to clean caked-on grease? Is He a fan of the dawn (where His mercies are new every morning)? Is He calling out an SOS each time He comes across our hearts that are soiled with fears, failures, guilt, shame, pride, another’s lies, our lies, dirty little secrets and wide open wounds that are festering?

I submit that He cleanses with tears. The dark night of my soul brought more tears than I could have ever measured. As a normal rule, I don’t cry much. My personality and my temperament don’t lend themselves to being a sympathetic crier or a weepy woman. But in my healing over the years, a great volume of tears have fallen. And I think, for me, that is the Lord’s scrubbing agent.


We make it out that the Lord’s washing us white as snow is like the quicker-picker-upper. But what if the whole of our lives is a long wash cycle dialed to heavy duty with extra rinse? What if He is washing us to look like blizzard-like conditions followed by a forecast of great packing snow, fluffy and fine? What if we are in The Long Winter, the ever eco-friendly, industrial strength, down on your hands and knees journey from darkness to white as snow Light? What if snow with all it's brilliance and beauty has a proverbial bite? What if the cleansing is sometimes abrasive and stings, rather 'bites the nose' as we travel to this place of Light, this pure white destination of redemption and restoration?


I imagine Ma cried her share of tears in The Long Winter. “Then Ma began: ‘...I’ll bid farewell to every fear and wipe my weeping eyes.’ The storm raged outside, screaming and hammering at walls and window, but they were safely sheltered, and huddled in the warmth of the hay fire they went on singing.” (Page 290) “The wailing hymn blended with the wail of the winds while night settled down, deepening the dusk of whirling snow.” (Page 241) Nearly every chapter recalled a song-- Ma or Pa breaking out in a sort of humble acceptance and chilling defiance that in the midst of the snowstorms, they would still sing. Through the tears and anguish the family experienced on those frozen frigid plains, Laura remembered the singing. She remembered the hope of spring.

‘...Cleanse me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, Let the bones You have broken rejoice.’

Psalm 51:7-8 NASB


Currently, The Lord may be scrubbing you with tears. He may be doing a deep clean and is certainly doing a good work in you. Pray with King David that you would hear joy and gladness. I pray that all your broken places would rejoice.

I hope that the wailing hymn would blend with your long night of the soul, and that your long winter would end in a song.

Though He scrubs with tears, may you know The Christ to be your Keeper. May you know that the song of Calvary cleanses you. May you know that He washes gently, too, like a Ma to her little pioneer girls. Homemade butter. Bonnets. And the fiddle by the fire.


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


White as Snow


He says He washes me white as snow,

I think He scrubs with tears

For though He has conquered every foe

My heart is dirty with fears.

And though He presses me on to more

My mind remains a battling war.

And when I cry, He cleanses deeper

And when I sigh, He is my Keeper.

So when others tell me

That I’m white as snow

I must tend to agree

For Jesus washes my every woe

With the tear-stains from Calvary.


cjm, age 20

4.14.89

9:40am


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