All that We Let In

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

Winter seems to have started early this year. Some years we can squeeze in some warmish days even in November, but not this year. By the end of October, snow began to slip down from the sky now and then and by the time November started, it wasn’t melting away between snowfalls. Today as I look out my sunroom window, the field is covered with snow with just a few clumps of dirt poking through. The sky is gray, the trees are a darker gray, the snow is white. Gray and white are the only colors of this day.

A friend of mine who has always lived in Minnesota was wondering in a Facebook post why in the world he still lives here. His tone was weary and any of us who live here can understand it. It takes a certain amount of tenacity to live here. One has to be able to find the good in this long, cold season it and that is hard for those who don’t like ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, sledding, etc. Personally, I’m not a fan of any of those things either – but this year my younger son and I have committed to trying snowshoeing. Maybe that will be our ticket to getting outside a bit more this year.

This is only my third winter back in Minnesota. I was away for 16 years – western New York (where the winters were worse than here), Colorado (where winters were about perfect – snow but also a lot of sunshine), and Texas (where it could easily be in the 80’s on Christmas Day). Each year as the “snow birds” in my congregation leave to head south for the winter, I wonder if I’m going to get to the point someday where I just can’t stand the winters and I decide to move away because of them. Admittedly, when we moved to Texas, part of the seduction was that when we went to interview at the church it was February and while we were still wearing winter coats in Colorado, the grass was green and flowers were beginning to bloom in Texas. It was nice to have five years of warm and hot weather, even though the summers were tough to take. There was no way to enjoy being outside on a summer day until after the sun went down, and it seemed sad to me that the months my kids were out of school, it was nearly impossible to be outside. The boys couldn’t run around barefoot in our yard because of the fire ants. Rattlesnakes were always a possibility. However, being able to be outside in short sleeves in January now and then was pretty wonderful. After a few years there, I was surprised that I got to a point where I longed for a good blizzard. I didn’t think it could be possible, but I eventually missed winter. I missed a good ‘snow day.’ I never missed driving on icy roads, but I missed winter.

I missed the great diversity of seasons that Minnesota has in abundance: bundling up and heading outside when snow is falling in fat, wet snowflakes, the first Spring days when the sun is just beginning to gather her strength again and people eagerly strip off the long layers to soak in as much Vitamin D as possible, summer days by the lakeshore when everyone is outside and lingering in conversation, the onset of crisp Autumn and the leaves so colorful it takes your breath away.  It’s all these times and seasons and the moments in-between that make Minnesota fine by me. Each of these seasons strike up memories for me because they are the same seasons I shared with my parents and friends when I was growing up. People who grew up other places don’t understand it the way we do – how the snow can squeak and the air sounds tinny when it gets cold enough, how your heart aches to watch a perfect summer day come to an end because you know how precious those days are, how there is no smell as sweet and good as peonies and lilacs on a May morning, and the immensely bittersweet days of an “Indian Summer” in October. I wanted my kids to understand this language, the difficulty and beauty of living in a place like this.

There are pluses and minuses to wherever you go. While I lived in Colorado and New York and Texas, whenever I vacationed, I came back to Minnesota, because this was where my parents were. Now that I live in Minnesota, I can vacation anywhere I want – I see more different places now. Since we moved back here we have traveled to Norway a couple times, the Black Hills, Montana, and I get to see my friends so much more often. I like that. I can plan things with my brother and his family who live only 45 minutes away and if the plans fall through it is no big deal because I will be able to see them again soon. It isn’t like a yearly trip back when everything hinges on being able to cram as many visits with as many loved ones into the few days I am back.

I’m glad my home is here now, but I am also glad I lived away for a while. I needed to do that. I needed to know that I could go away and create a life for myself elsewhere, experience other places, really get to know the culture of other locations. That was important to me. I’m glad my kids have lived somewhere else – but I’m thankful we could come back. I’m thankful my parents’ graves are only an hour away and I can go visit them and the place I grew up anytime I want. I’m glad my kids have a connection to my past and to my husband’s past by living in the state where we grew up. However, because they weren’t born here, they know they don’t always have to stay. They know I might not always stay. I tell them that we are here for now and that I hope it will be a good long while. I would like them to not move again until after high school. I would like them to have the sense that they have roots somewhere. I would like to invest in this church for a good long time and see what we can build together by the grace of God. But I’m open to that someday I might be called away. The Spirit is always at work and I want to be open to the motion of that Spirit, but for now, I’m so glad to call this cold, snowy place ‘home’.

I’m committed to taking these winter days one at a time. They can’t be rushed, and while sometimes it might seem difficult to find something to savor in them, I’m interested in trying. We bake cookies and bread, I spend more time writing, I remind myself that Spring will come but now is the time to be in winter, I give thanks for my warm home and that I have a commute of 200 paces up to the church.  I keep an eye on the weather and try to be out and about when it looks like the roads will be dry. One of my favorite things is how during the dead of winter when there has been a series of snowy, icy days, the first day that the roads are dry – no matter how bitter cold it is – people come flooding out of their houses again. The stores are full, the restaurants and churches are full – everyone gets out while they can to see other people and see some different scenery before the next snowstorm hits. There is a certain sense of camaraderie about it.

Wherever you go, there you are. There is so much to love about each place.

In Colorado, I climbed mountains on my day off. The sky was brilliantly blue most days and it was hardly ever below zero degrees. The spirit of the people there was so free and I felt at home there. Most everyone I knew there had transplanted there from somewhere else. It was easy to find a community in a place where everyone was searching for community.

In Texas, the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush and all the wildflowers of the Spring were indescribably gorgeous. I could go running outside any day of the year and it was never too cold, and in the summers I just had to wait until the sun went down and the temperature was tamed a bit. There is no other place I have lived that was so wild, proud, and different from where I grew up.

Western New York was green and the air was thick like soup in the summertime. I drove up to Toronto all the time, I smoked one million cigarettes. The people were hip and interesting. They were also hearty people who all knew how to drive in extreme winter. They had a biting sense of humor I didn’t understand.

I have called all these places home and I was glad to do it while I did. I’m so grateful for all that came to my life because of those places and the people I met there. And it is good to call this winter place home again.


All that We Let In

By the Indigo Girls

Dust in our eyes our own boots kicked up
Heartsick we nursed along the way we picked up
You may not see it when it’s sticking to your skin
But we’re better off for all that we let in

Lost friends and loved ones much too young
So much promises and work left undone
When all that guards us is a single centerline
And the brutal crossing over when it’s time

(I don’t know where it all begins)
(And I don’t know where it all will end)
(We’re better off for all that we let in)

One day those toughies will be withered up and bent
The father son the holy warriors and the president
With glory days of put up dukes for all the world to see
Beaten into submission in the name of the free

We’re in a nevolution I have heard it said
Everyone’s so busy now but do we move ahead
The planets hurting and atoms splitting
And a sweater for your love you sit there knitting

(I don’t know where it all begins)
(And I don’t know where it all will end)
(We’re better off for all that we let in)

See those crosses on the side of the road
Tied with ribbons in the medium
They make me grateful I can go this far
Lay me down and never wake me up again

Kat writes a poem and she sticks it on my truck
We don’t believe in war and we don’t believe in luck
The birds were calling to her what were they saying
As the gate blew open the tops of the trees were swaying

I’ve passed the cemetery walk my dog down there
I read the names in stone and say a silent prayer
When I get home you’re cooking supper on the stove
And the greatest gift of life is to know love

(I don’t know where it all begins)
(And I don’t know where it all will end)
(We’re better off for all that we let in)




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