If any of you are seasoned skiers, you have my utmost respect and admiration. This past January I went on my first ever ski trip with Lee to Park City, Utah, for our 18th wedding anniversary. Growing up, I went on numerous “ski trips” with my church youth group, but I never went to actually ski. It’s not anything I’ve really cared to do, primarily because I’m so cold-natured. I shiver in 70 degrees, so frolicking in 3 feet of snow has never appealed to me. But since I’m getting older, and since it’s something I’ve never done, I thought I might as well give it a go while I’m young enough to recover from an unexpected but likely tumble. Or 2. Or more.
We flew out on a Thursday night and spent the next 3 days on the slopes…and by slopes, I mean the practice slopes. I have never so much as put on a pair of skis in my life, so I had to start from square one. Like, I had to learn how to STAND, for the love. We took many hours of classes each day, and by the end of the first day, I was able to snowplow. That’s when you turn your toes in so that your skis make the shape of a pizza wedge. This helps you control your speed and even come to a stop. I felt super accomplished–so much so, that I was content to learn nothing further. Lee wanted me to try to go down a green slope before going home, so I pressed on. He and Noah went out to Park City the year before, and much to my surprise, they took only a couple of classes before skiing green and blue slopes that same day. The green slopes are the easiest and least steep. Blues are moderately steep, and black slopes are for the crazy people who must have nothing to live for. (kidding.) Those are the super steep slopes for the most skilled skiers. But knowing that the 2 not-so-athletic people in my family had skied blues, I felt sure I could do it, too. After all, I’m coordinated, physically fit, and can learn things pretty quickly…at least that’s what I kept telling myself. I remember saying a few times, “I am gonna totally school you on these slopes, Lee.” He only laughed in response. Now, on this side of the trip, I’m laughing, too.
By the 3rd day, I had finally gained enough confidence in my turning ability. When you learn how to turn correctly, you no longer need to snowplow, because turning is what controls your speed on the steeper slopes. I wasn’t, like, rockstar-confident, but I had it down well enough to go down the hardest practice slope without falling. Since we were leaving the next morning, I knew this would be my final opportunity to go down a legitimate slope. I didn’t really want to, and I encouraged Lee to go down it without me, but he insisted that I would be fine, and that it wasn’t bad at all. I felt pressure from my own self, too. I mean, how could I go all the way out to Utah and not ski down a real ski slope? So, I reluctantly got on the lift & rode what felt like miles up the mountain. I remember asking him at least 20 times, “Is this thing ever gonna stop?! How far up are we going?!” My stomach was in knots. I was literally terrified.
We got off the lift at the top of Home Run, the name of the green slope. As soon as I looked at the first part of it, I almost hyperventilated. “Um, no way can I go down this. This is NOT a green. This is a blue. I mean, seriously? This is a GREEN?! I’m gonna have to slide down it on my rear end.” Lee reassured me a million times that I could do it. He said, “Missi, if I can do this slope, I know you can. I’ll go ahead of you and you follow right behind me. We’ll go slow…I’ll coach you the whole way.” And he did. Bless his heart, that man has the patience of Job. Sure enough, within 10 seconds I was on my back. It was the first time (of many) I had fallen the entire time we’d been there. It didn’t hurt at all, but I cried like a baby as if I had broken a bone. “I cannot do this, Lee. I’m too scared.” What I wasn’t prepared for at ALL was to see mountain on my left, and a cliff to my right. One careless move and I could plunge thousands of feet to my death. Why in the world had I not been warned about that? And some parts of that slope were so narrow…I felt sure many people had died trying to ski them. I had to wonder if that’s what it was like to go on one of those dumb Bachelor dates, you know, where they rappel off a skyscraper or bungee jump off a bridge as a test of their love and courage. Had this been an actual Bachelor date, I would’ve surely been sent home on a jet plane that very day! But Lee stuck with me and encouraged me the whole way down. The whole THREE AND A HALF MILES down. I have never wanted anything to be over so badly in my life. Lee’s frequent suggestion of, “Why don’t you try laughing at yourself when you fall instead of crying…?” was a good one, but tears flowed regardless. It felt like THE most epic of epic fails.
About halfway down, we came to one of the steepest parts of Home Run. When I saw it, it didn’t scare me. It made me downright angry. “HOW MANY OF THESE STEEP PARTS ARE ON THIS SUPPOSEDLY GREEN SLOPE?!?” Lee calmly coached me down: “You can totally do it. You know how to turn. Just stop after every turn and I’ll stay right in front of you.” I think it took about 20 minutes to ski that one section of the mountain. After we got to the bottom of it, I vividly remember him saying, “Now. Turn around and look back at what you just skied. And you did it without falling! See? You can do it!” When I looked at that section from the bottom, it looked even steeper than it did from the top. I could NOT believe I had gone down it. I felt way more relief than pride…in fact, I felt no pride whatsoever. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment. It felt like an act of survival. Nevertheless, I had done it, and was happy to be so close to the bottom of the slope.
After we (FINALLY) got to the base of the mountain, I apologized to Lee for being such a baby. I felt like my fear ruined the whole experience for both of us. But he insisted that he loved every minute of it, and was so proud that I had gone down my very first slope. I had to admit to him that, if I never did that again, it’d be perfectly fine with me. I was so exhausted. All I wanted to do at that point was get back to our room, take off those heavy-as-lead ski boots, take a hot shower, and order room service. And that’s exactly what we did. It’s funny-because in my mind, that’s when being there really started to feel like a getaway. Skiing just may not be my thing, and that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks–right?
Since being home from that trip, there have been many times when I thought about looking back at the mountain and being so surprised to see how far I’d come down it. It’s such a metaphor for life, isn’t it? No matter the journey any of us are on, I think we can all relate to the idea of “coming a long way.” Maybe the journey for you is related to a diet or exercise program. Maybe you’re journeying toward a healed/healing marriage or some other relationship. Maybe you’re journeying to physical health. Maybe you’re on the path to sobriety. Maybe you’re journeying to full repentance, or to a deeper relationship with God. Maybe you’re working on putting the pieces of your broken heart back together. Whatever it is, I think we can agree that no journey is easy. They all present their own challenges as we strive to get to the end goal. Fear, uncertainty, grief, failure, doubt, and any other road block our humanity presents us with can hinder us from recognizing the progress we’ve made. Those steep places on the slope were so hard and scary for me to ski that I nearly gave up, and maybe would have if I had that option. It very much reminds me of other times in life I wanted to give up when the going got tough. But with a little determination, encouragement, and a lot of prayer, I was able to push through what seemed utterly impossible to do in my own strength. Now that I think about it, it’s often been during the most trying and difficult times when God revealed to me how far He had brought me already. Those times were also when I felt the most comforted by His refusal to leave or forsake me. Lee Wimberly would’ve died first before leaving me alone to ski down Home Run, but that’s exactly how God feels about us! He wants us to follow so closely behind Him…close enough to see the path He lays out for us. Close enough to grab ahold of His outstretched arm every time we fall down so that He can put us back on our feet. Close enough to hear Him say, “You aren’t alone. I’m right here with you. Just stay close to Me. You can do it. I’ll coach you the whole way.”
Thank You, Lord. May I follow You all the days of my life.
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8