It’s not supposed to be snowing. Not like this. And yet here we are at the base of Oregon’s mild Willamette Valley, with windfalls of white drifting down like cotton silver dollars. My boys are behind me in a sled we thought we bought for the mountain pass, and I am pulling them down the middle of the street over four inches of slick powder. It crunches under my feet.
“You’re a reindeer, daddy!” my five-year-old hollers before descending into calls of ” Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!” It’s January.
The ever-thoughtful and poetic Timothy Willard posted this quote today:
Surprise is the wonder-food God gives to nourish our hearts with joy.
— Timothy Willard (@TimothyWillard) January 7, 2017
I read Tim’s words, and I thought about how Jack, my autistic son, reacts to surprises not with words but with his whole body: the snow comes and his eyes widen, his muscles tighten, and he starts to jump in place, flappers ablaze. I thought about how special needs parents must also learn to savor God’s little surprises lest we starve for the lack of big ones.
Last night we had dinner at our friends’ house. The younger boys all retreated to watch Star Wars together while Jack sat with us adults, waiting for us to finish talking. He was waiting for a while, though. The four of us can talk…
After ninety minutes or so, he had had enough. He touched Sara’s chin. “Smart Writer one?” he asked. He was referring to the electronic toy he prizes so much that he can’t bear to bring it with him anywhere because he’s too afraid of losing it.
Sara smiled. The boy was being so patient. “First friends, then home and Smart Writer one.”
That mollified him. Our conversation resumed. Thirty seconds later, though, he was tipping his ear to Sara’s lips, wanting whispered reassurance that we hadn’t forgotten his request.
She complied in a hushed tone: “First friends, then home and Smart Writer one.”
He relaxed again, then he disappeared, and the four adults returned to our conversation. We talked of God and growth, and how grace has a way of covering all our arrogant tendencies, all our insecurities, all our broken places, of which we had many. Grace, like a white blanket of valley snow.
A few minutes later, Jack was back, but this time it was different. The boy had taken the initiative to put his coat on–something he never does without parental initiation. Then, he took his mother’s hand, turned it toward our hosts, and made it wave goodbye.
We all four fell into laughter. Our boy had made his point abundantly clear. We crave communication, and this was the epitome of clear communication; a small burst of joy to nourish our souls just a little bit more. It wasn’t a nine-course breakthrough, but it was the kind of wonder-food I’m learning to savor.
And here we are today, sliding around the neighborhood on a sheet of sheer white magic. I tow my sons between laughing houses where slumber parties become snow-ball fights, and wannabe photographers snap pictures of the strange, empty streets. And all of it is as beautiful as the new year itself; a frozen coat to cover our muddy tracks of regret. Sins like scarlet, grace like snow.
I hear my sons giggling behind me, and I’m singing along with Johnnyswim as they croon,
“I don’t know what’s coming…
I don’t know what’s coming…
I don’t know what’s coming,
but I know it’s gonna be good.”
Photos by my daughter Jenna, our friend Bethany, and my wife Sara, in that order.