As White as Snow

Growing up in Pennsylvania meant being able to count on having several snowstorms during the winter months. My childhood included sled riding, snowball fights, snowmen, snow angels, snow forts, snowmobiles and a favorite of most kids – snow days home from school! As I’ve gotten older, some of the reasons why I enjoy snowstorms have changed. I don’t spend as much time outside in winter as I used to and appreciate more now the beauty of snow from within the house next to the crackling fireplace with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

This winter though has been disappointing for any of us who look forward to the snow and who enjoy it for whatever the reason may be. After months of anticipating some “real snow” in southwestern Pennsylvania and not just another dusting like the ones we’ve been having, we finally received a more significant snowfall this past week. The ground was covered with over 4 inches and snow clung to the drooping tree branches. Such a beautiful sight! 

Our home is located in the Laurel Highlands, a region that lies in the western foothills of the Allegheny Mountains. Just about a 20 minute drive from our house is a scenic mountainous area where we enjoy spending time. After the snowfall last week, my husband and I drove up there over the weekend to do a little hiking in the woods. By then the heavier snowfall had ended and had turned to gentle flurries which were barely visible. As we walked along the snow-covered trails, completely surrounded by trees which just the week before were brown and bare (as would be expected in February), the beauty and tranquility of the place was breathtaking.

It is while out in nature that I most often marvel at God’s creation. How could I possibly be in a setting like that and not be reminded of the marvelous works of His hands? One of the most meaningful verses in all of scripture for me is found in Isaiah 1:18. It says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Here we were in this beautiful place, which had turned from brown to white since our last visit the week before. While there, the image of my scarlet sins becoming white as snow, coupled with the tranquility of this small piece of heaven on earth, brought an incredible sense of peace. 

The God of the universe – reaching out to sinners such as me, such as you, inviting us to “come” and “to reason together” is way more breathtaking than any mountain setting, way more breathtaking than the most wonderful blessing in this world. I am washed white. God does not see scarlet nor does He see crimson when He looks at me. He sees white – my sins are white, as white as snow, as white as wool. I am forgiven. Perhaps when God sees me, a child of The King, one who is washed in the precious blood of His Son, Christ Jesus – perhaps He is affected like I am when I visit that special mountain site which He created. Perhaps it takes His breath away to see me washed clean and white as snow.

HOPE NUGGET: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. [1 John 1:9]

Stirring up a Hornet’s Nest

My first time picking blackberries with my granddaughters ended with an experience that I’ll never forget. The sun was bright in the hot afternoon last Saturday here in southwestern Pennsylvania. We were prepared with our supply of sunscreen, water bottles, bicycles, wagon and berry buckets and headed out onto the trail. 

We had previously scouted out some good patches of berries near one of the trail’s access points which we knew would be easy to reach while pulling the wagon with little girls. With plans to host a family birthday party picnic the next day, our goal was to pick 3 quarts of berries which we’d use to prepare a special and refreshing fruit drink that our family enjoys. 

For each 12 ounce can of Sprite or 7UP, add 1/2 cup of blackberry mixture & ice

We arrived at our spot and stepped off the trail down into the weeds and brush where the berry bushes were growing. With 4 adults picking, it shouldn’t take long for us to gather the needed amount of berries. We had finished picking in the first patch and had moved on to the second. Fortunately, the girls had already tired by this point, so were back up on the bike trail with their mom and uncle and away from the berry bushes. Their dad (my son) and I were pushing on to finish gathering the remaining berries from this final patch of the day.

In order to reach the berries which are farther back on the bushes, it’s necessary to step blindly into the weeds and brush, not fully knowing what’s beneath. After years of berry picking, we’re used to dealing with sometimes difficult conditions and often come away with various bug bites and scratches from the sharp thorns. This time though would be different than usual. I took one step, then another, then another until I felt the first stinging pain on my elbow. I thought that it must have been one big mean fly to hurt so much and swatted at it while telling my son that I had just gotten bit.

Meanwhile, whatever had just bit me, was now buzzing and circling at my face and zooming in over and over. Before I knew it, there were more “flies,” which I would soon realize were hornets. They were swarming now and aggressively attacking, and as I was instinctively backing away from them and getting more stings, I heard the voice of my son telling me to get out of there and to start running. If it wasn’t for him being closeby and swatting the bees away from my back and legs and arms, I would have likely ended up with more stings than the five I received.

Just some interesting information about the differences (**steroids)

It was a pretty painful experience. One which I’d never had before that day. Three days later, I was still feeling the pain and effects of the stings. In the hours that followed, I thought of how sin operates in our lives. How we take one step in towards it, not realizing what’s below our feet or what’s ahead in the next move we make. How with each step forward, we gain confidence when nothing bad occurs. It seems safe enough. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, the stings begin, one after the other, ferocious and painful, until we succumb to them or run from them, sometimes needing the hand of a friend to pull us away or to fight for us.

Years ago, while teaching a middle school Sunday School class, one of the kids shared a saying with me that I’ve never forgotten: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” The biblical definition for sin is: rebellion against God or transgression of the law of God. Sin hurts. It is painful. It has consequences, sometimes terrible consequences. Don’t stay in it. Run from it. As fast as you can. Turn to God in repentance. He is waiting for you.

HOPE NUGGET: O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath! For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me. There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me. My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning. For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off. Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long. But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth. I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes. But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me, who boast against me when my foot slips!” For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me. I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin. But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good. Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation! [Psalm 38]