Enveloped in a Layer of Gratitude

Reflections on an ice storm

Mar 24, 2023

Reflections Hope Contemplation Nature Beauty
close up of flowering bush with icicles

The weather forecast called it ‘freezing rain,’ warning of an ice storm in effect for our county. Essentially, this meant that the rain was going to be accompanied by temperatures at or just below freezing, leading to ice accumulations. I had never heard of or witnessed this weather pattern before moving to Illinois. Now, in my fifth year here, I was more than familiar with it. What struck me about it the first time I experienced it was how simultaneously beautiful and destructive it was. Ice crystals form on all the greenery—trees, bushes, plants, shrubs. Everything becomes enveloped in a layer of ice, frozen in time and space.

As I looked out my kitchen window into our backyard after the ice storm had rolled in, having left a trail of arctic wreckage in its wake, I had that same feeling from the first time I saw such a scene… bewildered amazement. The icicles on the trees gave them an elegant quality, as if they were dressed up in diamonds. From far, one of our smaller trees looked like it had spring buds forming, impossible in the middle of February. I could feel the icy cold even from the warmth inside our house. The sky, a dismal gray looming overhead. It was an eerie feeling, as if everything in existence stood still, unable to move. I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures, but they didn’t do justice to the stirring portrait of winter that was painted before me.

I continued admiring it, but couldn’t help noticing the heaviness of the branches. The way that the weight of the ice was overloading them, causing them to droop unwillingly. Many of them were hanging way below their capacity, unable to bounce back, forced to carry the load for as long as the ice storm persisted. It lasted through the night into the mid-morning, finally letting up sometime that evening. But the ice hung on, gripping tightly with its frigid claws, abusing the laws of gravity for its own scheme.

By the next day, the damage had been visibly done. Driving around the neighborhood, I saw fallen tree branches, large and small, all over people’s yards. Many of the larger trees had cracked limbs, barely holding on, severed from the weight of the ice. Thankfully our backyard trees survived, but one of our large front yard fir trees had lost two mid-size branches. Mother nature is glaringly impartial and indifferent when it comes to the destruction it causes and whom or what it affects. I was just glad it wasn’t worse.

It’s been a few weeks since that ice storm. As I look back over the pictures I took, I’m struck by the analogy between the icicles on the trees and the emotional and mental weights that are placed on us in the course of our lives. The crushing burdens we are forced to carry, often beyond our capacity, to the point of collapse. The ice storms that periodically blow through our life leave us with unbearable pain to process, draping us in a cloud of emotions we can’t shake off. We are worn down, unable to move, forced to wait out the storm’s passing. Eventually, when it does pass, we can find ourselves with broken relationships, broken hearts, or broken lives. The mess is seen all around us, and we are left to pick up the pieces.

But just like the freezing rain, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) by our creator.

And just like the branches that do survive, there are parts of us that will undoubtedly bounce back with His help. For we were made to rise up. We were made to rebuild what has been broken. Just as the ice storm eventually subsides, so will the pain, no matter how intense and engrossing. It might feel suffocating when it hangs on, pulling us to our knees, but that is not where God would have us remain. The light of His grace begins to melt the frozen parts of us that feel lifeless. The storm might last through the night, but “joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

As I think about the fallen tree limbs, now chopped into smaller pieces and put into piles by the side of the road waiting to be picked up by waste management, I have to accept that there may be pieces of us that are so damaged from life’s storms, they can never be fully repaired. We must grieve their loss and learn to live without them. The trunk of our soul will not be the same. And the scars become visible, if only to us. But they will also serve as reminders of our survival, of our audacious endurance in the midst of the wreckage.

Our battle wounds are merely a chapter in the story of our lives, emotional ink penning a time when we faced intolerable suffering and how God helped us out to the other side.

In each winter season thus far, I have only seen this particular ice storm come through once. That is enough for an entire season. Perhaps it is nature’s way of ensuring we don’t get too comfortable, begin taking things for granted. Like clear skies, dry roads, warm homes, intact tree limbs. When everything stands still, it becomes easier to take inventory of our blessings. But that’s not all I took away from the experience. The contrast of the beauty of the icicles veiled against the backdrop of the freezing rain reminds me of life’s paradoxes—the exquisite hidden in the ordinary, the radiance beaming forth from the broken fragments, the tenderness found in the wounds. We are at once moved and shaken. And we learn how to hold these two opposing forces hand in hand, waiting for the storm to pass.

As the gray skies turn back to blue and the ice begins to finally melt, we might just find ourselves enveloped in a layer of gratitude for all the parts of us that withstood the fracturing, remaining whole. The parts of us that refused to harden, remaining soft. For this is how perseverance is built. One constricting icicle at a time.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

~ Viktor E. Frankl