I wrote the first draft of this essay well over a year ago. In light of the rapidly changing events related to the COVID-19 virus, it seems like the right time to reflect on the way fear and a loss of control can affect us.
Wherever you find yourself today, may the peace and love of God, who knows you intimately and cares for you, be yours.
It’s late March. I’m standing at the top of Mt. Snow in Vermont. The brilliant sunshine reflects off the pristine snow on this crisp and cold day. Whooshing past me in steady intervals, colorfully-clad skiers and snowboarders choose their next run.
I haven’t skied in ten years. Anticipation and nervous butterflies flit through my body. Veteran skiers assure me it will be like riding a bike. I want to believe them, but I’m not convinced.
My husband Brad and I push off and coast towards a safe, green run. I’m aware of my tentative movements. I focus on “feeling” the mountain, shifting my weight—left, right, left, right. As I continue down the run, skis gliding over powdery snow, my fear of falling on the first run dissipates. A small grin forms on my face. The vivid green pines dotting the mountainside delight my senses.
Elation fills me as we finish the run—no falls or other disasters. It feels premature to compare the experience to riding a bike, but I breathe a sigh of relief nonetheless.
On our third lift ride, we chat with another skier. “You have to go down Ridge,” he says, “it’s beautiful.” Fumbling to remove our ski gloves, we study the trail map. It does look like a good run, offering stunning views before following the downhill curve of the mountain. It’s also marked a blue. It can’t be that hard.
The fall comes surprisingly quick. I fear the momentum I’m gaining. My ski catches an edge as I turn to slow down and my balance shifts. I overcompensate. Time slows as I wobble and lose control before impact.
“Are you okay?” asks Brad, skiing towards me and offering a hand. Really? A fall? I’m frustrated at myself, expecting more. I shake snow out of my glove and reposition my poles. I scan the run. I’ve fallen on a steeper part of the slope and there’s still a good bit left to maneuver. Self doubt and nervousness rise inside me.
I push off and immediately feel off balance. Something isn’t right. I fall again. “What happened? It’s like you just crumpled,” Brad exclaims. “You were fine.”
“I can’t do this,” I mumble. Discouragement, mixed with growing alarm, fills my gut.
The next fifteen minutes last an eternity. With each fall, another piece of my mental resolve cracks. Irrational thoughts fill my mind. I’m never going to make it down this run. I’m going to be stuck on this mountain forever!
Eventually, we make it to the bottom. I need a break. I find a spot on the crowded rack to prop my skis and head inside the lodge. Plopping into a chair at a corner table, I reach for some napkins and blow my nose and wipe my tears.
I’m not able to fully process all that is running through my head at the moment, but I do recognize that I didn’t anticipate all of this.
Suddenly, I’m transported to the delivery room of my first child, Jacob. Brad and I dutifully arrive at the hospital when my contractions are five minutes apart, just like the doctor ordered. Although the labor pains continue at regular intervals, nothing much happens and the doctor hints it will most likely continue like this for hours. Anxious to have a baby and trusting others more than myself, I agree to the pitocin drip. Soon, the contractions come quickly and with more intensity. I feel myself floundering, fear and panic rising in my body. How will I survive labor? What if this never ends? All my pre-labor intentions of having a natural delivery depart. I want an epidural. Now.
Over the next several days, I do some mental unpacking. What was it about skiing and falling that unraveled me? After some reflection, I identify my fear of losing control. Each time I fell exacerbated the out-of-control feeling spreading through my body. I felt powerless. And, I was afraid. What if I broke a leg or severely injured myself?
I continue to mull over the day’s events, wondering if there’s more unpacking to be done. Eventually I see it. Pride. Going into the day, I knew I wasn’t going to qualify for the Olympic ski team. But, I expected better results for myself. I’m in strong physical shape. I figured that would count for something on the ski slope. When our family lived in Vancouver, we purchased ski passes at a local mountain. It wasn’t like I skied only a handful of times. Brad didn’t seem to be having trouble getting back on skis. When I struggled to make it down Ridge, the narrative running through my head said, You should be able to navigate this run. You shouldn’t be falling so much.
What became clear to me through this experience is how often I orchestrate my day-to-day life to give the appearance of control and independence. I choose when I want to wake up. I decide what to eat for breakfast. I make my plans for the unfolding day and generally my anticipation is accurate. I also don’t willingly put myself in fear-inducing situations. In my work, I know what is expected of me and I do it, often receiving positive affirmation for a job well done. Mt. Snow undid me because it exposed my loss of control, my fear, and my pride on a ski trail named Ridge.
I’m humbled as I recognize these truths. I wish I would have been able to recognize what was happening in the moment. It’s also not lost on me that I didn’t expect to be confronted with my shortcomings while skiing—not that any of us sign up to face our limitations when doing something fun. Or, for that matter, that we get to pick and choose when we want to experience something hard or challenging in life.
I was glad when that day ended and it was time to head home. My anticipation and excitement about skiing turned into frustration and discouragement. As I’ve reflected on my experience, I’m reminded again how God uses all sorts of experiences to teach his children. How often do I assume, often subconsciously, that I can contain him or his ability to instruct me?
That day on Mt. Snow opened my eyes. I’m not in control. I’m not the master of my life. I’m not the skier I thought I was. However, I am deeply loved by God. His care and patience with me extends to all corners of my life, including the ski slope.