The Polar Vortex and Gratitude: An Unlikely Combination

The polar vortex and gratitude. I never thought of pairing the two until the great polar vortex of January 2019. Even though I have lived through plenty of what we used to call "cold snaps".

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•           I was 9 in 1965, the year that held the record low temperature for January 30 until 2019.

•           I was 25 and 5 months pregnant in 1982 when the mercury dipped to -45° when we were living in northwest South Dakota.

•           I was 33 in 1989 when school was called off for 2 days before Christmas break, which meant my third grade students had their anti-climactic Christmas party when school resumed in January.

The difference between my response to previous cold snaps and the 2019 polar vortex go far beyond a name change. My response to the 1965 cold snap was delight when Mom said she would drive me to school. In 1982, my husband and I piled into our friends' car and traveled 90 miles to go out to eat, though the thermometer was -20° at its warmest.

In 1989 our son born with medical special needs was 7, and his baby sister was a few months old. By then I was haunted by what our son's early years had revealed. His multiple surgeries, frequent invasive procedures, and nearly constant infections and illnesses showed that bad things happen even when you follow the rules and choose wisely. Therefore, my wisest course of action was to control the situation tightly, to protect my children, and keep everyone inside until the cold snap ended, or we ran out of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

By 2019 our son was on his own and doing well. We had begun an intergenerational living arrangement with our daughter, her husband, and their children, ages 3 and 1. We had gone through hard times and good ones. We had seen God faithfully provide doctors and therapists for our son. We had seen Him provide for every hospital and medical bill. We had seen Him provide when we changed careers. We had seen Him provide the houses we needed and could afford. We had seen how much better His plans were than ours. 

So when the temperature plunged in January 2019, when condensation streamed down the windows, dripped from the ceilings, and pooled on the floors, when the dryer quit working and the service people weren't making house calls, when the editor of my latest book for special needs families sent revisions with a short deadline, I didn't respond with my pre-motherhood abandon or with my post-motherhood iron grip of control.

Instead, I responded to the polar vortex with gratitude born of more than six decades of experiencing God's faithfulness. This time, I sat back to watch the latest installment of God at work in our lives. He didn't disappoint.

•           My husband and I saw God expose the condensation issues during preparations for an upcoming house remodel. Now we could talk to the contractor about what to do.

•           When the repairman said the dryer was toast, we were able to purchase one, used for 3 days and returned because the previous owner didn't like the color, for 1/3 the original price, and with the original warranty.

•           I asked friends to pray for me, specifically for wisdom and peace, while working on the requested revisions. The cold weather kept me home and focused, and the revisions went faster and more smoothly than expected.

 For me, the polar vortex and gratitude are closely linked, as is my gratitude for the privilege of raising a child with special needs. You may find that statement ludicrous if you are new to the role of parenting a child with special needs.

Thirty-six years into the job, I have come to trust God's plan for my life and the lives of our children. I have learned that the best gifts are not always easy, but they are always good. This is a promise I can trust and so can you.

This is a hope upon which we can stand together. It's a truth to remember when the next cold snap rolls in and God shows you how the unlikely combination of polar vortex and gratitude, as well as special needs parenting and gratitude, really do belong in the same sentence.

Written by Jolene Philo

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Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. The book she is co-authoring with Dr. Gary Chapman, Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, will be released in August of 2019. Her blog for parents raising children with special needs and disabilities can be found at