Thursday, December 17, 2020
I love snow. Growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, I had no choice. When I lived there as a child, the average snowfall was 240 inches every winter. People mounted eight-foot orange fiberglass rods with flags on top to the front bumper of their cars just so they could be seen at intersections.
Snow is required for Christmas, and I’ve never let it stop me from getting home for Christmas. I’m not proud of that based on one trip that put my family at risk.
It was 1980, and my wife and I lived in Watertown, South Dakota. Our two oldest children were ages three and one. At the time I was working full-time at a radio station as I also pastored two small country churches. It was my job on this Christmas Eve to be on the air at the station until 4:00 PM.
Denise had the family car all packed when I got home in my 1961 Ford pickup. The family car was a Datsun station wagon. I slammed down some supper, loaded the two kids into the car, and headed for Kulm, North Dakota to be with Denise’s family for Christmas.
Throughout the day I had been reading an ominous weather forecast. Heavy snow was expected overnight, with blizzard warnings in effect for Christmas Day. Before I left the radio station, I checked the radar one last time. I estimated the speed of the approaching snow, and shared that information with Denise. We agreed to leave. It wasn’t snowing at the time of our departure, but that was about to change.
We travelled north to Aberdeen and all was well. But not much further north the snowfall had arrived earlier than expected. By the time we crossed the border into North Dakota, the snow was very heavy. Two inches were already on the ground. I estimated it was falling at a rate of over one inch per hour, and we still had over an hour to go. Actually, it would become almost three hours.
There were no plows on the road. It was Christmas Eve. As the snow built up my Datsun was struggling to stay straight. But that wasn’t the worst problem. Visibility was severely impaired. Even on low beam the snow was so heavy that the light reflected back into my eyes and reduced my visibility to ten feet or less. I had no idea where the road was.
I looked in the mirror at two little children. I was not going to get stranded in this car in a North Dakota Blizzard, but I had no idea what to do. I spoke with Denise and we decided to creep along carefully. We knew her parents would be concerned, but we had no way to notify them in these ancient of days without cell phones. But we prayed, and trusted the Ancient of Days to protect us.
I turned the car heat up all the way. Denise zipped up her winter coat and pulled up her hood. She opened her car door just wide enough to be able to look down and see the edge of the road. I held the steering wheel tightly and followed her every direction for the next sixty miles.
When we arrived, we were physically and emotionally exhausted. I don’t believe we have ever felt more grateful than at that moment. Grandpa was standing in the living room looking out the window. I suspected He would be very upset with me. Instead, when we got in the house, he simply said, “We are so glad you made it. Is there still time to open presents?”
Over twenty-two inches of snow fell that Christmas. It was gloriously beautiful. But in retrospect, we should have stayed home. I praise God that he protected our little family in that little car. As Nehemiah said in the Old Testament, ”The good hand of God was upon us.” Over the years I have discovered that it always is!