Christmas was fast approaching in Western Colorado where I served as one of six associate ministers on the staff of a large church. My oldest son was 10, and my middle son was 8. Both boys wanted the same gifts for Christmas: a sled, a cowboy hat, and a snowsuit. They made it clear that they also desired to build a snowman on Christmas Day. I promised them that we would do exactly that.
The problem, it seemed, was that Grand Junction was unseasonably warm that December. With daytime temperatures in the 50s, the boys began to fret. I told them not to worry and I reaffirmed my promise that we would build a snowman on Christmas Day. As the days passed, the weather remained the same. They would remind me of my promise, and I would guarantee the building of a snowman.
Christmas Eve came with no cold spell in sight. On Christmas morning, bright and early, the boys rushed, not to the tree, but to the window to spy out the situation. The morning was bright, no clouds in the sky, and still too warm for snow. They were subdued as they opened the presents and, even though they received what they had requested, the disappointment on their faces was apparent.
We had breakfast and, afterwards, I told them to put on their snow suits, grab their hats, and sleds, and meet me outside. “What for, Dad? There’s no snow!” I urged them to get a move on and they trudged to their rooms to suit up.
It was truly a pitiful sight as they dragged their sleds behind them with their heads down. Leaving their mom and James, their 9-month-old brother, behind, I moved to the car.
“Saddle up,” I said. “Get in the car.”
“Where are we going?” one said.
“I promised we’d build a snowman and so we shall.” They put their sleds in the car and scampered inside, some excitement beginning to pierce their gloom.
“Where are we going?”
Smiling, I said, we are going to the Grand Mesa.”
Grand Junction, Colorado sits in the Grand Valley on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies. On July 5, 1982, it was 108 degrees of dry heat in Grand Junction. It gets cold and snows, too, in the winter. The city sits just over 4,500 feet above sea level in terrain that is considered “high desert.”
About 40 miles (an hour and half by car) from Grand Junction is the largest flat top mountain in the world. It covers an area of about 500 square miles and sits about 6,000 feet above the surrounding area. At its highest the Grand Mesa is 11,000 feet above sea level. The average annual snowfall is 420 inches or 35 feet. It didn’t take long until we were in deep snow.
We spent the rest of Christmas Day on the Grand Mesa. The snow was plentiful and just perfect for sledding, snowball fights, jumping into snow drifts so large that the brothers disappeared from sight, and, yes, building a snowman. It was cold so the snow suits and hats were necessities. I snapped dozens of photographs to immortalize the moments on the mesa. The things I remember most, though, are the smiles in the photos that captured the delights of an unexpected experience.
When we finally left the Mesa and headed home, the boys were exhausted but happy. When the kids said they wanted to build a snowman in the weeks before Christmas, I knew we would. I didn’t know if we would have snow in the front yard, but I knew there would be snow on the Grand Mesa. It was an easy promise to make. I suppose I could have told them weeks ahead of time, but I think the trip to the mesa, as an unexpected adventure, was the best gift they received on that Christmas Day in 1981.
Later, I used the experience to teach them a spiritual lesson. “Remember that Christmas Day in Colorado?” I would ask. “Well, there was never a chance that I wouldn’t keep my promise. You see, I knew something you didn’t. I knew where the snow was.”
I would go on to say, “There are going to be days when you think God has forgotten you or that you think He won’t answer. You might even think He doesn’t care. Just remember, He knows things you don’t. At the right time, He’ll get you to where you need to be. He knows where the snow is.”
It’s been 41 years since that Christmas Day, and I hope that the lesson learned on the Grand Mesa still remains with Jason and John. It certainly has stuck with me. For me, there have been many times of heartache, disappointment, frustration, and even a few times of despair.
But, somehow, somewhere in the midst of all of it, I eventually manage to remember that day and, sometimes when I get the photos out and see the smiles of a promise fulfilled, I remember … He knows where the snow is.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). This year, Christmas Eve Worship services are at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, Christmas Day at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]