Saturday, December 10, 2022

Hand Warmers

I remember my first year of deer hunting in the Minnesota Northwoods.  November weather in Minnesota is a vacillating conundrum of confusion.  One day you may find yourself sun bathing in 64 degree sunny weather, while the next day you are wondering where you left your wool socks and rabbit fur trapper hat from two days ago.  

A young boy’s first day of deer hunting is an important day in his growth to adulthood, almost as important as the day of his birth or his wedding day.  I remember many of the important days of my life including my 21st birthday, when a bunch of my friends took me out to a local place and we consumed an exorbitant amount of…cheese.

On this first day of progressive manhood, my dad woke both my older brother and I up at 4:00 a.m. and made us start getting dressed right away.

“Hey you two, get up and get dressed.  Be sure to wear warm clothes, it is supposed to be cold and it looks like we got about 10 inches of snow last night.”

“What about breakfast?”

“You don’t need breakfast.”

“But I am hungry”

“Have a bowl of cereal then, but be quick about it.”

I poured some sugarless Wheaties into a Styrofoam bowl followed by the milk which came out of the carton in clumps of icy slush.

After breakfast I pulled on my long underwear which was too small for my legs, followed by three pairs of socks and 2 shirts and some holey blue jeans.  I then donned an old green snowmobile suit covered in patches and holes.  I slid my feet into the barely insulated rubber boots that were 3 sizes too large, which gave me room to grow…too much room to grow, but the extra socks helped to take up the extra space.  I shouldered on an orange vest, an orange hat and some thin orange mittens, and finally stepped out of the camper and into the cold Minnesota forest.  The wind slapped me in the face like an icy wet dish rag.  I sank into the depth of snow and fell forward onto my hands and knees.  My mittens were instantly full of snow and my hands simultaneously became ice cubes.

My dad had packed for me a set of charcoal heated hand warmers and 1 book of matches.

“Light these when you get cold” He directed.

I was cold now, but I waited.  We trudged through the deep snow and my dad dropped me off at my stand.  I crawled up onto the platform while it was still as dark as pitch.  I could not find the matches to light my hand warmers so I waited the 65 minutes until daylight, getting colder each minute.  At daylight I found the matches and began to…attempt the lighting of the charcoal stick for the hand warmer.  I struck match after match trying to light the hard fuel stick only to have each small flame flicker out by the winter wind.  My fingers were stiff with cold and stung like the needling stingers of wasps.  It did not take long before my matches were gone, the entire book…empty.

Sitting there, hopeless and cold, I struggled to know what to do.  After pondering my predicament for a whole 60 seconds or more, I crawled down from my stand and walked to my dad’s stand at about 8:00 in the morning…maybe 90 minutes into the open shooting hours of the opening day. 

“What are you doing!” My dad shouted in a whisper!

“Do you have any more matches?”


“Matches…I need more matches…I can’t get my warmers lit.”

“It’s opening morning!”

“Do you have any matches?”

He tossed me down another book of matches and when I made my way back into my stand, my frozen fingers were finally successful in lighting my charcoal hand warmers…and I was happy…at least my hands were happy.  The rest of me was still cold. 

It wasn’t until later that night, when we got back to the camper and we ate a hot supper of hot dogs, beans and root beer, that the rest of me found some “happiness.” In fact, after my dad lit the camper furnace and I crawled under my sleeping bag I went from happy to something deeper than happy.

Christmas often reminds me of how much our life we spend trying to be “happy.”  I see happiness as being like a hand warmer.  It heats up… it warms our hands…at least for a while.  Yet the rest of our bodies remain cold.  Then the hand warmer wears out and we are left seeking happiness again. 

Joy is different.  Joy is sustaining.  Joy doesn’t burn out.  Joy is deeper than happiness.  Joy is like sliding under the warm covers on a cold Minnesota night, while happiness is trying to warm your entire body with a cup of hot cocoa. 

On that first Christmas the angels appeared and proclaimed, “Good news of great JOY which will be for all the people!” May the depth of that reach you this Christmas! Good news of great JOY! Some of the packages under your tree may bring some happiness this Christmas, but only the Good News of Jesus can bring the Great JOY! Joy can ONLY come from the Spirit of Christ.

May you find Great Joy! This Christmas!

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