While anyone who has met my grandmother can’t deny that we are blood related and similar in almost every way, I also have a lot of similarities with my grandpa even though we aren’t blood related. I like to believe that they come from the bloodline that we share through Christ. The cover photo for this post is my grandpa, my sister, and I at the slopes.
Anyway, when I was younger, my grandpa inadvertently taught me one of the most vital pieces to life and faith. Each year, we would travel to Killington, Vermont and ski for a week.
This was from the Pennington bloodline. Skiing was practically in their DNA.
My grandpa skiied, my great grandparents skiied, and so on.
When I went to Vermont the first time in elementary school, I did not know if I would be good at skiing. I did not know if I would enjoy it. What I did know, even at a young age, is that it enveloped a sense of legacy and heritage I knew I wanted to be a part of. The ski lodge had pictures of family members with trophies and medals. They were a big deal, and I wanted it.
I began skiing and I was pretty good at it for a beginner, even though there was a learning curve. I did not like lessons in the morning, I loved skiing with my grandpa in the afternoons though. I gradually worked my way up the slopes: learner, green, blue, black diamond…
As I got more involved, I eventually got my own pair of boots, my own skis, my own helmet, my own goggles, my own radio so we could all communicate, my own bag- the whole deal. I had everything to feel like I really was a skier. I also had one other thing, a harmonica. My grandpa had gotten me a tiny harmonica that was fixed on a necklace to take on the slopes with me just as he had.
Several years later, I had grown and I was finally ready for everything I had been working for. I was ready to ski one of the most difficult double black diamond runs on the East Coast: Outer Limits. It is the longest, steepest mogul run in the East. To put it into perspective if you’re not a skiing type: It is the 5th steepest slope, coming in at a 29 degree angle. It is 2,241.5 feet long and has a vertical drop of 1,105 feet. For a 12 year old, that’s a big, intimidating deal.
But back to my story-
I was ready. I told my grandpa I was ready and we set to it that the next day, we would ski Outer Limits together. What I didn’t know at the time that I would discover about 15 hours later, is with Outer Limits, when you’re at the top, there’s a little bit of room and then the drop off is so steep that you can’t see down, only out.
It’s a chilly, but beautiful February day. From the top of the slope you can see out miles and miles. It truly is breathtaking. I encourage you to look up photos of this area. I am in awe of God’s creation and then I realize – I can’t see the bottom.
This is when panic begins to set in. I am paralyzed by fear. Tears are welling up behind my goggles and my little knees are shaking in my boots.
“You can’t do this”
“You’re not good enough”
“You’re going to embarrass yourself”
“You should never have tried this”
“You’re going to be a disappointment”
Rapid fire through my head a voice was telling me to question everything that led me to this point. And then, a different voice broke through.
“You can do this. You don’t have to do it quickly, but you do have to try”
“You can trust me”
And then more voices…
As other older skiers passed me, they cheered me on.
He told me he was going to go just slightly below the edge where I couldn’t see him and keep talking to me, and instructed me to follow his voice.
As I watched his skis touch the air and then bend as he disappeared, I became even more frightened. But he kept talking, passers-by kept cheering.
“I’m right here, follow my voice”
And in that moment, I slowly edged myself to what felt like the ends of the earth, and I let myself tip over the edge only to be met by my grandpa, both arms and poles up in the air cheering and telling me that the hardest part – the starting – was over and now we could just enjoy it.
As we went down the slopes, with each mogul I became more proud of myself and I began to let go and enjoy the ride. I laughed, played the harmonica, and at the end of the run I was met with a small group of skiers who congratulated me for having such an accomplishment and for being brave.
But what does this have to do with faith?
Looking back, everything.
It’s easy to be deterred by the enemy when we’re on the verge of something incredible.
It’s important not to listen to that voice even when we can’t see all the details and things might be scary.
My grandpa was there for me the whole time.
He was there even when I couldn’t see him. I just had to focus and listen to his voice and follow. It is important to remember that God is there even when it’s hard to see and hear His presence. We just need to focus and listen and follow because He is present, and He is oh so good.
I had like-minded people encouraging me. People who had already done what I was about to do. People who had walked (well, skied) through the part of life that I was terrified of. Community is a vital part of faith. We need to walk through this life and listen to the wise council of people who are ahead of us. We need to do the same for those behind us.
When I let go, I was able to experience some of the best joy I’ve ever felt and experience God’s presence and beauty more than ever before. Don’t let the stress of life or the enemy’s voice steal your joy or the goodness of what God has done and created.
I was met at the top, and at the bottom with cheers for letting go, for keeping focus, for finishing. I was surrounded in the best possible way throughout.
Hebrews 12:1 reads:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
So friends, whether you ski or not, I propose we all try to live this life with focus, bravery, community, and with a Double Black Diamond faith.