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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Beggar to Rookie of the Year...a story of God's Grace

When I was a little girl, I watched competetive Alpine (downhill) skiing on TV, and I was so intrigued and fired up that I begged my parents to take me to a ski hill to learn. Mom told me that there wasn't anywhere to go nearby (we lived in Byron, IL), and that it was too expensive, anyway.

As an aside...
Parents, NEVER do this to your children! I was a shy wallflower of a child. Expressing an interest such as this was a BIG DEAL and I was CRUSHED until adulthood because the almighty dollar became Satan in our lives. That's a different story, but relevant. It became the reason "not to do" a lot of things, instead of just trusting in God to provide! Parents, let your children try stuff, and don't let finances be the be-all-end-all to all decisions! Trust God, not money!  Thank you!  

Back to programming.....

We had a pair of red plastic Fischer-Price "skis" likely purchased at Ben Franklin's in downtown Byron (pop. 2,000), and I took them to the neighbor's hill across the street...and was sorely disappointed. I might have been a child, but I knew "profane" from "legitimate" skis. These were definitely PROFANE.

I remember waking from a dream when I was about 7 or so...I dreamed that I had been able to obtain a pair of skis...and when I opened my eyes, there they were! But as I reached for them, they disolved and I awoke, just as had my dream-horse in the back yard. Such is the life of a child.

I gave up on a lot of things as I got older, but a couple incessant longings remained:  to own a horse (still not realized, but came close, still a goal), and the desire to learn to ski.

Fast forwarding...when I was 17, I finally went skiing for the first time...and when the bunny hill just wasn't teaching me anything other than how to tip over on flat ground, I jumped on the lift and I went to the top. It looked like a small hill...I later learned it was a "blue square", or an intermediate run. Meaning people skiing on it should actually have some faction of control. Not me. This took place at Afton Alps in Afton, MN, and while it was no mountain to real mountain was HUGE to me! I remember being excited to be gathering speed and still in a vertical position...until the hill took a sharp downward and right-hand curve..forcing me to either go through the snow fence and over the cliff or learn how to turn. I learned how to turn and that became my favorite hill.

Fast forward again. My third or forth time skiing, I went to Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls, MN, at the age of 25 or so. I was taking an EMT class at the time and I saw the ski patrol. I knew they were volunteer, but more importantly...they were SKIING AND using the training I was then learning. I spoke to the patrollers that day, and that same week, the season ended due to spring temps...and spring.

Praise God that the Patrol Director never got the chance to ski with me..he would have said, 

I was honest when I told him that I was a novice skier, but my medical training and NREMT score was tempting to he said "Yes" over the phone and signed me up for training.

The medical part, Outdoor Emergency Care, was the same thing as EMT but academically easier, and the practicals MUCH more in-depth, more realistic...and so far better. But the hill training..I still had to pass that in order to earn the right to wear the red jacket with the white cross.

We had a warm fall, and a warm winter...right up until near Christmas. I was nervous...I knew I needed to prove myself, and I needed to work hard, but I didn't have the snow required for this.

Finally, the temps fell, and finally runs were open. I went out with some fellow classmates from OEC, to the two open runs...a "Blue" and a "Black" run, respectively. I had purchased skis at a second hand store, but they were both too long and too stiff for me...and I couldn't turn...and in the warm temps and resulting sticky snow...I couldn't ski more than 5 feet without falling over.

A friend of mine from class, took me to the top of the black run, "Wild", and instructed me to follow him. He never had any formal lessons, just learned as I was...but as a child when the ground was closer and fearlessness was a given. He instructed me, "Hold your hands out as if you're handing someone a couple of beers. Keep your hands like that and follow me, turn where I turn.."

Two of our OEC instructors, a husband and wife team, stood at the top watching this. J said, "I don't think this is a good idea..." I didn't think it was a good idea, either. But I trusted my friend, and as fearful as I was, I wanted to wear the coveted red jacket more. I followed...and I didn't crash even once.

Another Patroller, an experienced Hill Instructor, was there that evening and, apparently impressed by what he saw (I was doing parallel turns, apparently that was amazing), he gave me my first ski lesson ever.

From that point on, every time I went up to ski, which was about 4-5 times per week, or more, I got a lesson whether I wanted one or not. I got to know the Patrollers and Instructors, they got to know me, and this was a group of people willing to give someone a leg up, as impossible as it seemed. One instructor in particular, one of our hill instructors, took me under his wing. He was an ex-member of the US Ski team (I have yet to verify this officially although on my own shift I skied with an ex-US Ski team Nordic Ski Jumper), he was a PSIA Level III instructor, and became an Examiner that year. He was a phenomimal skier, and he and another Level I Instructor took me under their wings and taught me the basics and the meat.

During formal hill training, initially I and another woman were seperated from the rest of the group because we didn't have the proficiency, but finally, they let me join for the toboggan training. They deemed that my skiing was proficient enough to be able to safely handle the toboggan and not kill anyone. . The other woman was a grad student, and she did not complete this part of the training because of her grad school schedule. She passes out of this segment, and to date, remains on the Patrol as far as I am aware.

I worked hard, I put in the "mileage" as they put it, and a week before the dreaded hill test, they gave us a practice session. I had not crashed in weeks, but for some reason, once we got to that test, I did nothing but crash!  They told me to do a medium radius turn: I crashed. They told me to do a hockey-stop:  I crashed. They told me to traverse and kick turn: I crashed.

This was a mini-judgment day. It was like trying to qualify for the Olympic team...
and I did nothing but crash

 That evening, as I sat in the "lounge" waiting for my dreaded meeting with the Patrol Director, I was approached twice. First by one of the hill instructors, who had a daughter about my age. He gave me the "Dad" speech.

"You can't keep doing this to yourself. You are here at all hours and you just can't keep it up. Something has to give. You need a break before the test. You can't keep driving yourself so hard and burning the candle at both ends." I almost cried. It was the first time I realized that they actually KNEW how hard I was working and how disappointed in myself I was.

Finally, he left me alone. Then my "trainer", the ex-US Ski team patroller/ Instructor approached, and he gave me the "coach" speech. He told me that I was expecting too much out of myself, I had become one of the stronger skiers of the group but if I didn't settle down I wouldn't make it.

Then we got to the formal meeting. I met with both the Patrol Director and the  Ex-ski-team guy, who was my main instructor (I am privileged...he is expensive and his lessons for me were free). We three conferred on my ability to do the job. Was I qualified to take the test?

P. the phenomenal skier/trainer told me in the face of the Patrol Director:

"You skied like s*** tonight. If this had been the test you would have failed."

I agreed.

He went on, "But we look at potential. You have become one of our strongest skiers on the entire Patrol, and if you keep it up, you are only going to get better. But not like this. You need a break. Some people won't make it tonight, but it's not just because of tonight, but because of every performance. We do not see tonight as being typical of your skiing."

I held my breath, and they told me they would allow me to take the test. I nearly collapsed in relief and joy!

It was the following Saturday, and yes, I passed with flying colors. God is good! I consider this one of my crowning achievements.

I also began racing that winter, and was already doing so by the time I took the test. I was miserable at it, but  loved the challenge. But I found a flaw...succeeding at racing was NOT the same as succeeding at the Patrol, and I found that I was overly-goal-oriented but couldn't deliver.

I knew intellectually what I needed to do, but I couldn't make my skis obey. I couldn't live up to my expectations, and this lead to much frustration.

Now...why is ANY of this relevant to ANYTHING? 

Because we ALL have stories like this. We all have successess we worked hard for, and subsequent challenges we were unable to meet.

For myself, and as it relates to current Catholic culture and defense...well, I learned that I have a competetive streak I never knew I had. I learned that I can accomplish the impossible with LOTS of help, but that doesn't mean I can do it all.

I also recieved an excellent example of the manifestation of Christ to others. Remember...EVERY TIME I went up to the hill, I got a lesson, and I never had to ask. In fact, I would have preferred to have been left alone. But they wouldn't. In looking back, when I passed that test, a lot of people won. It wasn't about me, it wans't about the Patrol, but rather, it was about all the people who literally pushed me through the obstacle I wasn't sure I could overcome.

Then when I got "good", I got full of myself. I knew I had a lot to learn, no doubt. I did not pretend to be the skier I could never be, but I still held the expecation that I could overcome...and it wasn't to happen. I was a decent racer, but not a GREAT racer. I didn't have the time or the experience or the money to focus on racing. As much as I loved it, it was not to be. But that didn't make me stop trying or feeling the rush of a "personal best". Nothing like being in the moment, being in "the zone".

I often wonder about this. I look back on my life, and I wonder why I have succeeded at something which required so much. What place does this have in God's kingdom? What does this have to do with mine or anyone else's salvation?

In turning it over, I have come to a few conclusions: I learned about how to be generous in an everyday kind of way. Consider all the people who helped me. When I started, I really wanted to pass the hill test and become a patroller, but had you seen my lack of skiing ability, you would have rolled your did many patrollers and fellow classmates. And yet, they stepped up to the plate. They did not accept me at face value and subsequently dismiss me as hopeless, but rather, they welcomed me to their "family" and BOOSTED me far beyond anyone's expectations.

 Is not God's hand in this? Is there not a lesson here?

And personally, more intimately, I learned that I had a competetive streak. I learned that I had an iron rod in my spine and once I had a goal in mind, there was no stopping me. I learned about my own willingness to work hard for something "impossible". On the flip side, I learned that I was also very sulky when things didn't go well. I won't go so far as to say that I was a sore loser as I never begrudged anyone their earned spot, but I was very hard on myself when I did not meet my own expectations.

Now, I have to take and apply these things. It's not a matter of being competetive anymore, or a matter of skiing well. Now it's a matter of wanting to defend Christ.

Jesus, the Church, rather than skiing, is my ultimate passion. The Church is my home, my family, and when it is attacked, I feel that old biting edge and I'm ready to go.

But the problem is this; I'm not really READY to go! I don't know enough, I'm not disciplined enough, and I'm a loose cannon. My Catholocity is like my novice skiing...I am alll over the place and crashing everywhere, even in front of the people who know what they're doing and doing it well. I'm getting in my way and into the way of others.

As in skiing, I need an instructor or two, I need the kind of training that will check me every time I go into it. I need someone standing over me with a ruler to measure my ability (or lack thereof) because the LAST thing I want to do is to go into the DaVinci Class in Eden Prairie and dishonor the Church and lose souls because I'm overzealous and undertrained.

I trust in God, but not in myself and my own abilities.

I learned that I love the speed and the challenge, but when I focus on these things, I lose out on the goal. I'm Bode Miller, in other words. (Skiers will know what I'm talking about).

We all have stories to tell. We all have had to learn things in strange ways and thats what makes life interesting.

I realize that I am well within another lesson, but I really feel like I am doing this without an instructor and without the textbook. I have lots of resources, sure...but no lesson plan.

I'm a Catholic in need of a lesson plan and a test that isn't part of the real thing, and it's hard to accept the fact that being Catholic isn't just a's reality, and the final result of the tests we take every day will not appear for a very long time.

What am I trying to say? To pay attention to today's lessons, to write it all down, and when this crisis or achievement has passed, you'll learn the lesson in reverse but use the knowledge going forward.

God bless you all, especially if you got this far without falling asleep. And if you fell asleep while trying...well, then sweet dreams, my friend!


Ray from MN said...

First time I've ever seen spam on a comment! That must take a lot of time to do them one at at time.

Great post! You might want to look for a "spiritual advisor."

The Church does need its defenders. I was pleased to see today on the First Things blog that 20 or more years after Piux XII started to get attacked, finally the "counter-attack" is occurring. There is no excuse for that long of a delay.

Maybe this is what I should be doing also.

Adoro Te Devote said...

Ray Marshall! You must be a saint! If you read through all of that you HAVE to be canonized! :-) I thought I had "Moderate comments" turned on, but apparently not, and once activated, it's not I guess I can't go back and delete. I hate spam.

I actually used to have a Spiritual Director, but he had to go back to India, and most of the priests in my area are either too busy, or too new. And the Sisters...well, not real orthodox in my part of the Metro.

I just keep praying because you're right...I need an SD!

As far as your comment, "Maybe this is what I should be doing also", did you mean blogging or getting a Spiritual Advisor? I recommend both!

Our Word said...

You're right - SDs are very hard to find around here. Fr. Altier at St. Agnes is one of the best, but he's so busy that he barely has time to even return phone calls.

There are some parish priests who are good ones around here (Fr. Echert on the EWTN site mentioned a few several years ago; I might still have that list somewhere) but it can be difficult to justify asking a priest to spend that much time with someone who doesn't belong to his parish.

I often feel myself in need of one as well. If you find anything out, please let me know! :)


Adoro Te Devote said...

I'll be happy to share the wealth. For now I'm just asking the Holy Spirit and the Saints for guidance...St. Joseph, St. Therese de Lisieux, St. Faustina, my Guardian Angel, St. Francis, St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John...etc.

And Mitchell, do you mean to tell me you actually READ through all of that? I'm very impressed, my two dear readers.

To put up with my long-winded storytelling and live to comment about it surely must be a form of martyrdom. Did you offer up your suffering for the salvation of souls? :-)

God bless!