Building in the Snow

by Michelle Gurney

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    No matter how hard she tried, her snowball was never as large or as skillfully formed as her sister’s

    As I sit by my bedroom window, watching the drifting snow, the whiteness of the earth creates a soft background for my memories. These few moments alone have helped me remember how I discovered myself.

    For as long as I can remember, I have always looked up to my big sister, DeNeece. I will never forget those cold winter mornings when the snow seemed to rise above my waist but never reached her knees. She would boldly take a clump of snow and roll it over the ground to create a snowman. I would gather up some snow and follow directly behind her, rolling my tiny snowball in her footsteps. I would follow her around for what seemed to be hours. Then she would abruptly halt and announce her ball finished. So naturally, I declared the same. Would my ball ever be as large or as skillfully round as hers? I pondered the situation, and finally it occurred to me to start my snowball alongside her, not behind. Then they both would be large and we could create a huge snowman. But we never rolled snowballs again.

    The years passed. As I was becoming a teenager, I had many dreams for my future, but somehow DeNeece was becoming what I considered to be an ideal person.

    I remember the long hours the whole family spent helping her with the election for student council president. We cut out hundreds of blue vinyl “D’s” to put on her posters. During all those nights of drawing, cutting, and gluing, I was certain that she would win the election, and of course, she did. With jealous frustration, I watched her throughout that year. She never lost anything she set out to win, even the high office of governor of Girls’ State.

    The inauguration was a memorable event. Our family sat on the stage in the background. I watched her smile of accomplishment as she was escorted down the long aisle lined with 409 other outstanding girls. After she took the oath of office, she was given flowers and other gifts. Cameras seemed to flash endlessly when the trophy was handed to her. During the ceremony, conflicting thoughts kept racing through my mind. DeNeece looked so beautiful as she gave her talk. But why were there tears in people’s eyes, and why did they all stand up when she finished? Why did she always win? I felt proud of her, so why was I angry with her? I was confused and could not understand myself.

    The trophy for Most Outstanding Teenager of New Jersey was among her numerous awards I often admired. It took seven columns in the New York Times to summarize DeNeece’s accomplishments. The article entitled “A Jersey Teenager Is a Super Achiever” was placed on a leading page. A cold chill ran through my body as I read and reread the article. My heart and mind were torn as I struggled with my feelings. Why could she do everything so well? Why did she draw everyone to her like a magnet? I knew how much I loved her, yet I was tired of being “DeNeece’s little sister.”

    That winter I decided I had to become like her. I tried ballet. I tried drama. I started doing many of the things in which she was interested. Nothing seemed right for me, and I became more frustrated. Although I had regularly prayed, I now developed an even greater need to communicate my thoughts with God. I spent many hours on my knees asking that I might gain peace of mind and understanding of DeNeece and my feelings toward her. It seemed my prayers were finally answered through DeNeece herself. Because of her deep concern for others, she sensed my growing struggle. She knew she needed to help me, so we walked and talked again in the snow.

    “Michelle, I am glad you’re you. I’m grateful that you have shared your special talents with me. Help me to become more patient and understanding like you. Help me learn to be close to people on a one-to-one basis. You have so many of the refined qualities that I desire to have someday. Discover how special you really are; then be the best of what you can be. Don’t try to be another DeNeece; be a Michelle. Your gifts and talents will flourish, and we can grow together.”

    I was very surprised to find that she desired some of the traits I had. She helped me see that I was trying to mold my ball exactly like hers, yet after many months of uncertain effort, my snowball was still quite small.

    After our walk together, I decided to discover and develop my own strengths and talents. I tried playing the clarinet, guitar, and piano, singing, writing poetry, teaching children, and being artistic.

    I recognized the beauty of music and the total satisfaction that comes from sharing it with others. When I played in church, I felt an inner fulfillment come to me as a performer and to my friends as an audience. I experienced satisfaction each time people would thank me for touching their hearts with my music.

    Just as I was realizing my musical potential, I was asked to teach the three-year-olds in church. I discovered how much happiness comes when a small hand takes mine and two big blue eyes look up to me and say, “Thanks, Michelle, for being my special friend.” Serving the Lord through working with his little children helped me understand the real meaning of the scripture, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).

    Through accepting other leadership responsibilities, I have had opportunities to help my friends. I have learned that many of their problems originate from their individual families or their lack of purpose in life. Through those hours of talking with them, I have grown to love and appreciate my family even more.

    By trying these different experiences I have started to roll my snowball in my own unique path, using my talents as the basis. I get excited when I see the snow accumulate and grow with each new day of development.

    When DeNeece came home from college this summer, we shared a free, unpressured week, our strengths and talents working together. I played the piano while we sang duets, we created unusual gifts for our family, and we walked and talked again. We spent many nights until dawn sitting on her thick shag rug sharing memorable experiences of the past years. We also talked about qualities such as being thoughtful, fellowshipping, and understanding others. Then we prayed together that our love for each other might grow continually. We talked about serving the Lord, but each in her own individual way. Finally, we were able to begin unifying our growing snowballs to create one strong snowman.

    So in my thoughtful hour, watching the snow glide to the earth, I find that my talents flow gently to me as I am willing to discover my gifts and myself.

    Photos by Jed Clark