Skiing the Black Slopes

In the early 1990s, my husband and I joined my dad, family, and friends skiing in Switzerland. On day three, Dad decided he wanted to show us the mountain he had learned to ski on, one that held special memories for him. There was just one problem. That day, the only open slopes were the black ones, those usually reserved for the very best skiers. Even though Doug and I were novices, Dad was sure he could get us down.

  From the beginning, it was an exercise in terror. Every turn presented me with another sheer, icy drop as I made my way down, skiing and falling, and skiing and falling, and falling some more. Finally, after yet another panicked stretch of uncontrolled speed ended with me and my gear splayed out across the slope, I gratefully tested my still-working arms and legs and quit. I tore off my remaining ski and yelled through my tears, “I am walking down this stupid mountain!”

  On the way down, Dad suggested that at some point we would have a good laugh over this day. My stony silence prompted him to recognize that it was still too soon. Unfortunately, he passed away before we ever got that chance. Dad said something else though, as he carried my skis, and I alternately walked and slid on my butt down the rest of that mountain, something that I never forgot. “I am getting older. I live a comfortable life with lots of good eating, good drinking, relaxing with friends. It’s good for me, once a year, to go somewhere and challenge myself to do something really difficult.”

  I have remembered that. While I still feel that he was foolish to put me in such a dangerous situation by taking me onto slopes that were far beyond my competencies, I can see that he did it because he believed I was up to the challenge. He valued the sense of accomplishing something difficult more than he valued safety and certainty.

  Skiing, certainly, is not the appropriate challenge for me. I have never learned to do it well, never been particularly interested in becoming expert at it. I went to Switzerland that year mostly to spend time with my dad. But this year I got to do something else that challenged me in a way, perhaps, similar to the way my dad felt facing Alpine slopes. I went to India by myself.

  Honestly, I am a pretty fearful person. I think about car crashes when we drive, wars and famines when we listen to the news, and medical emergencies when I’m in India, specifically my own. As a woman, I feel particularly vulnerable. And I don’t think that taking every risk that presents itself is the way to go. I do not, for example, belong on ski slopes anymore.

  But someone pointed out to me that every time people in the Bible give into fear, they do the wrong thing. Abram called Sarai his sister because he was afraid for his life and thereby put both her and his future posterity in jeopardy (Gen 12, 20). On the other hand, obeying God often requires bravery. Peter stepped out of the boat, not unafraid but with the will to put one foot in front of the other and to move forward across the water, at least initially, despite the fear (Matt 14:27–31). That’s what going to India was like for me—lots of deep breaths and focused breathing; lots of putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that moving forward, even in the Lord’s will, does not guarantee outcomes, either happy, successful, or pain-free.

  In doing that, here’s what I found. I found love. God’s love met me in India at every corner. I don’t know if the love I felt was God’s love for God’s people there, somehow poured through my heart, or God’s love for me to sustain me as I pushed past my fears, or some combination of the two. All I know is that my heart feels knit together with the hearts of so many of the people I met, dear friends now, who allowed me to experience in person the trans-national, trans-ethnic reality of God’s people.

  That place at the intersection of our hesitations and God’s call is, I believe, the sweet spot. Please, church, I beg you, do not, in some misguided attempt to keep women safe, close us off from this experience, from finding God’s love, from knowing God’s love in the midst of our fear.  Some of us experience it on the slopes of Switzerland, others in India, and still others in preaching our first sermon, leading a church, or planting one. We answer the call of God, expressed through the gifts and abilities given to each of us. We step forward despite the fear, as we say “Yes,” by the skin of our teeth, into the Holy of Holies, the Love, the very presence of God. Do not bar our way.