This week was my eldest daughter’s twelfth birthday, and to celebrate, we drove up to my sister’s house near Vail Mountain for a day on the ski slopes. My husband was out of town, but with good weather in the forecast and a birthday girl to please, I decided to take the trek up to the mountains with my three girls all on my own.
It was a perfect ski day: Sunny bluebird skies, decent snow on the runs, everybody in a celebratory mood. Everyone was all smiles for some commemorative photos on the top of the mountain, and the views were spectacular and inspiring. I had no idea what God would teach me about my faith later that day.
First, let me start at the end of our day, when my sister got us free tickets to go snow tubing after skiing. We have never been tubing on the new, more dramatic “adventure zone” snow tubing runs on top of Vail Mountain, so my girls were very excited. I was a little more hesitant, can you imagine why? Here’s a hint…
As I rode up the long, steep magic carpet tube with my five-year-old clutching my legs tightly, watching other tubing participants fly down the slopes at a lightning speed, I was seriously not sure I could do this — especially with her!
We got to the top and my older two girls (12 and 10) had no visible qualms. So my little Elise and I watched anxiously as first my brother-in-law braved the dive down, followed by my sister, my big girl Audrey, and my slightly worried but brave girl Claire. Everyone got to the end of their tubing chutes safely. It was go time for Elise and me.
As we sat in our tubes, my hands clutching tightly to my handles and one of Elise’s tube handles, I felt my stomach turn. I looked up at the tubing hill operator for consolation. “Are you sure we can do this together and it’s really safe?”
He grinned at the endearing sweetness of my motherly concern. “See those rubber pads out there? They totally slow you down. By the time you get even close to the end you’ll be completely slowed down. See how everyone else is barely coasting in?”
I was silent for a minute. I looked at Elise again and said, “Really, this is safe?”
“Yes, totally safe,” he assured me. “It’s really, really fun — you will love it!”
Something inside me believed him. I looked at his confident smile once again, and for whatever reason, I trusted him. I had faith in his words, in his knowledge, in his experience. And so I nodded OK, and he shoved us down the hill.
The ride down was so fast… seriously so fast!
Elise was visibly petrified and we both screamed the entire ride down. And just like he said, our tube caught the grips of the rubber mats and we slowed, and slowed, and came to a quiet stop well before we would hit the pillow pads lining the netted walls of the tubing area.
My first thought: He was right! It’s crazy scary, but it is actually safe. And maybe, just maybe, I would do it a few more times and it might actually be fun.
However Elise would have none of it. “I am not doing that again, no way! No way, Mom!”
Why I talked her into trying again I still don’t understand. I am not one to push my children to do anything they don’t want to do, but some part of me felt that if I could convince her it was OK, then it was really OK. I pleaded with her and she rode up the tubing ramp with me once again. But this time, as we sat at the top in our tubes ready to be pushed, she screamed.
“Stop! No, I don’t want to do it again — I really don’t want to!”
So we pulled her out and another helper came over to walk her down the ramp safely while I took off down the hill on my own, determined not to be afraid this time.
And it was fun, fun enough to take a few more runs while we took turns watching Elise at the bottom. Eventually I decided to call it quits and take photos of my family members zooming down the hill. They were having a blast by now.
Here comes the kicker: While I was snapping photos, my brother-in-law zipped past us and I continued to watch the hill for my girls to take more photos. Behind me, I heard Elise scream: “Mom, uncle Chris just flipped his tube!”
By the time I turned around, my brother-in-law was already getting up from his fall, pulling his tube out of the way. How in the world he had flipped I couldn’t tell from what I saw. He later explained to us that he was going so fast, that when his tube hit the rubber mats, it literally stopped him so abruptly that momentum carried his tube right up and over his head backward. He shook it off, but later was in a lot of pain. I am still praying that it doesn’t turn out to be worse than he thought at the time.
As we walked back to the car, Elise said flat out, “Mom, that guy told us we would be safe but I saw uncle Chris flip right over in his tube. I will never do that again — never!”
Her words caused me to question myself. Why had I trusted that tubing hill operator so completely? Why did his words seem to immediately calm me, to the point that I was willing to push my daughter to put aside her own fears and trust needlessly in a situation she really didn’t need to be in?
I came up with one obvious reason: You can hurt yourself skiing and snowboarding too, but that doesn’t stop us. You can hurt yourself cycling, yet we all do it. We camp, we hike, we swim, we fish near fast-moving rivers. The girls roller blade and zip around the neighborhood on their scooters. We do a lot of things as a family that some might consider too risky or dangerous to participate in. But we do our best to minimize risk (helmets, other types of protection, lessons, safety rules, etc.) and the rest is a matter of trust: Trusting the Lord to keep us in His care wherever we go and whatever we do everyday.
And that is where I started to realize that trusting the Lord should actually be the more important reason — the one you can completely count on. Yet in that moment when that guy told us it was safe, I know I let go of my fear because I trusted him and those rubber mats at the bottom — I wasn’t thinking about God at all.
How do I know this? Because earlier in the day, God had given me an opportunity to fully trust Him with the safety of my girls, and I had totally failed. I had gotten separated from my eldest daughter on the slopes, and I totally lost it.
My big girl Audrey is a superior skier, and she has a habit of zooming by us and stopping somewhere downhill to wait for the rest of us to catch up with her. This doesn’t usually bother me because I trust her skiing skills and she always waits. And we’ve never been separated before.
(In this photo, Audrey is the one in the shadows waiting for us to catch up to her. That’s Claire in the pink jacket.)
However, today there came a point that I didn’t see her downhill waiting for us, and I began to worry. Should I wait, or should I go down? She must be downhill farther, I thought. If I don’t see her here, she must have gotten really far ahead of us because she is so fast.
As Claire and I kept going farther and farther down the slopes toward the chairlift, stopping at every breaking point, we still didn’t see her. I really began to worry. I finally called out to Claire that I was going to speed down to the chairlift we’d been riding just to make sure she was there and to follow me as best she could, because Audrey probably was there — just waiting for us slowpokes to catch up.
But she wasn’t. She was no where to be seen. How could this be? So I panicked.
In tears I pulled over a resort employee to ask for help. He began radio calling other chairlifts to see if she might be waiting at the wrong chair. No one had seen her yet. I called my sister, and she sent her husband down the same ski run we’d just taken to slowly look for her along the way. We waited for what seemed like forever but was only about 20 minutes, the employee calling different people to see if she’d checked in with anyone, us watching as skier by skier approached — and none of them were her.
Then suddenly she appeared — flying down the hill toward us. She was a little shaken, and she said she had been waiting for us like always and never saw us. Finally, she had decided to go down to the chairlift so that if she didn’t see us, she would ask the employees to call my mobile phone, because she knows my number. She did the right thing and it worked. We were reunited.
Here’s where I believe I failed in this faith test. Any mother would worry in this situation, right? It’s a natural motherly response. However, instead of stopping to pray and ask the Holy Spirit for some wisdom on what to do next, not freaking out in front of sensitive Claire to make her panic, and trusting that God had not only helped us raise a smart responsible girl who would probably find us at that chairlift, but that He loves her more than I do and would keep her in His care, I proceeded to let fear drive my thoughts and actions completely in the opposite direction.
I cried, I panicked, I practically shook the employee until he called more chairlifts to find her. I imagined her injured somewhere, maybe in the trees knocked out (because she likes riding through the trees), or at the bottom of Vail Mountain with hundreds of people walking around and no phone. When my sister tried to calm me down, reminding me that she was not only a good skier but a bright girl who would ask for help and for sure be found, I didn’t listen. She knows this mountain, my sister assured me, she knows where we are and she knows where to go. But I would not be comforted.
At the time, I didn’t see this little crisis on the slopes as a faith test. But later, after snow tubing and realizing I had completely trusted in its safety simply because some young guy who worked there told me so — and he was wrong — I began to recognize my faith failure. I had trusted what I could physically see (such as people flying down the tubing hill safely before me) and what I could audibly hear (such as a guy saying it’s all good, and he would know, right?). Yet what I believed in my heart about God and the truth of His word — how much He cares for us and wants us to literally hand over our anxieties to Him so He can do what only He can do — was not enough to help me react in faith to being separated from Audrey on the slopes.
It’s hard to describe how physically different I felt in both situations. While Audrey was lost, I was physically shaking and tense all over. My chest hurt and my head was spinning with fearful thoughts. However, as scared as I was flying down that tubing chute the first time, I felt my body completely relax and “go with it” — because in the few seconds it took to reach the bottom, I kept telling myself, “Just trust it, let go, it’s totally safe and nothing can go wrong.”
That’s the difference. That’s how I know I had complete faith at the wrong time, and total fear at the wrong time.
I so want to be there, to have the kind of faith that Jesus said could move mountains. I am working on it everyday! But that day, I felt like one of those disciples questioning Jesus about feeding the multitude. And that he would have said to me, “Oh Renée, ye of little faith… trust in me!”
The Lord was so gracious to us that day. Audrey was OK, Elise and I didn’t flip in our snow tube, and He reminded me how much He wants me to trust Him.
“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour our your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” — Psalm 62:8
— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. She is currently editor and lead author of NextGen Homeschool: Formerly Homeschooled Moms Homeschooling Our Next Generation and lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with her family.