February 8, 2006

Becoming Minnesotan

1504 page14 caps I walked across a bridge over the Mississippi River, I began to doubt my sanity or at least my tenacity. It was January in Minnesota, and snow had gathered in the walking lane. My boots sank into the drifts, and my jeans grew soggy. Below me, the waters of the Mississippi were dark and beautiful and edged in ice. It was an image, I thought, I couldn?t tire of. But I had. I was beyond cold, and this journey across the river felt interminable.

Beside me, cars moved rapidly from place to place. The inhabitants did not see the beauty below them, but they also did not feel the bite of the wind, the slow numbing of their hands and feet, the pain of drawing air into their lungs. I trudged along and seriously wondered how I would survive winters in Minnesota. This was not my natural habitat. I belonged to a place where the sun was shining, and the temperature rarely dipped below 60 degrees.1

That evening the weather forecaster announced that it had dropped to 20 degrees below zero, and the wind chill was even lower. Then he said something I held on to for the rest of the winter: ?Well, folks, I think we?ve seen the worst of it. Today was probably the coldest day of the year.?

If I had survived the coldest day of the year, I knew I was going to make it.

1504 page14And I have. I?ve now lived through two Minnesota winters. And I?ve learned to become a little more Minnesotan. I?m interested in the forecast and plan accordingly. I dress in layers, and beside my door is a basket of scarves and hats and gloves. I keep a broom in my trunk, and I use it to sweep the snow off my car. And when I have to, I can drive in the snow.

But most of all, I know I am slowly becoming Minnesotan because this autumn I was looking forward to the first snowfall. When it was still 60 degrees in November, I was surprised and saddened.

I didn?t set out to become acclimatized, but because I was here, because I was exposed to the elements, I was changed.

Changing is a familiar notion in Christianity. In 2 Corinthians, Paul is enthusiastic that Christianity is not static, but rather a process. He writes: ?And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord?s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.?2

Often, discussions of changing get mixed up with discussions of working one?s way to salvation. The simple truth is this: We will never be good enough to be saved. Salvation comes through faith. It is a gift.3

Christianity demands nothing, and it demands everything. God has promised us eternal life simply through faith. But then, He holds us to the highest accountability. The rich young ruler was asked to sell everything and give it to the poor. When he could not do so, Christ said, ?How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!?4 We must be willing to forsake everything for Christ.

Love, though, is perhaps the characteristic God values the most. First Corinthians 13 famously chronicles the beauty of love. It also portrays a love so perfect that no humans can possibly embody it. ?Love never fails.?5 Even the most loving human does fail. When it comes to love, we all fall short.

On this earth it is not possible to become perfect, or to have perfect love. But it is possible to change, to become a better person. Change seems like a lot of hard work, and it can be. But usually it happens without our noticing. We change because of our environment, our routines, our relationships. Christianity is a relationship that exposes us to perfect love.

A flower changes its position as it turns to follow the sun. If we sincerely keep our eyes on Christ, we will gradually become more like Him.

1 All temperatures are in Fahrenheit.  I respect Celsius but I can?t understand it.
2 2 Cor. 3:18, NIV.
3 ?For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast: (Eph. 2:8,9,NIV).
4 Mark 10:23, NIV.
5 1 Cor. 13:8, NIV.

Sari Fordham is working on a postgraduate degree at the University of Minnesota. Her e-mail address is [email protected].