When Grace Looked Like a High School Ski Team

This January, I’ve been reflecting; walking through healing in my own life this past year and seeing grace for what it is. The hardest times in our lives always have the most residual grace.  January is always hard for me.  A month of utter darkness and a crash from the delight of Christmas leaves me struggling every single year.  I was hoping this January would be different, but it showed up like an ugly nemesis; cascading its mask in anxiety and some serious winter blues.

In the mess and struggle of my own life, I find comfort in the Bible, particularly the Psalms.  I love that they are so honest about life.  The Psalmists could’ve painted life beautiful; they could’ve only talked about all the good and greatness of God and how God made their life pretty.  But they didn’t.  They told of their enemies; they wrote about death, defeat and agonized in long laments.  Last year was a hard year, really hard; I’ll share more throughout the coming year.  A Psalm that spoke deeply to me was Psalm 77.  Asaph was in agony when he penned this song; however, the reflection didn’t end there.  Verse 10 breaks, “Then I thought, to this I will appeal; the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago…”  Remembering God’s miracles and graces in the midst of hardship opens our eyes to who He is in our circumstances today.  Remembrance is the food for tomorrow’s miracles.  It is with that that I share a January grace.

Snowy Alaskan Trees at Sunset

On New Year’s Day this year, our family went cross-country skiing.  It was the first time I had put on skis since my senior year of high school, 21 years since I felt the glide under my feet, and cold air whisk across my face.  My husband had recently bought his first pair of cross-country skis, and my youngest son had received his first skis for Christmas.  It was time to indoctrinate our family into embracing the land where we live.  An activity to enjoy a snowy winter, get exercise, and the see the beauty of creation all at once.  I was amazed that I still knew how to do it, that my balance was still there down the little hill, and that my body remembered the strokes.  I was surprised by the joy that found me that day on the frozen white tracks while my kids learned how to ski around me and memories of the past that paraded my mind.

When Grace Looked Like a High School Ski Team

The assistant principal for our high school greeted us eighth graders with enthusiasm and optimism that spring day as we toured our soon to be domain. “High school will be the greatest years of your life,” he promised.  But four years later, as I walked across the platform to receive my diploma, his words laid hollow on the stage of my life, looking at reality square in the face, “He lied! Those were the worst years, I don’t ever want to go back there again,” I thought in silent pain.

They weren’t all bad.  But when pain comes in, it has a way of tainting everything a different color.  My first two years were in a youthful sense beautiful.  Full of fun, friends, learning, adventure, joy, youth group, slumber parties, braces, and young love.  But in October of my junior year all that changed.  My world was turned upside down and inside out when one of my best friends and first love was diagnosed with leukemia. Most of my other friends had graduated or moved away while another friendship painfully withdrew itself.  It was a year of loneliness, uncertainty and grief.  Tears were my daily companion, and in every stero-typical sense of nerdiness, homework and playing flute were my coping mechanisms.  Loneliness felt like a banner marking my days with grief as my constant friend.

As hard and miserable as my junior year was, I knew I had to do something to survive my last year.  An extreme introvert by nature, I’m not sure many in my class even knew who I was when we graduated.  So just going down the hall and making new friends was out of the question.  My life was committed to books, band and getting home from school to my own beautiful, quiet room as soon as possible.  I hated anything involving athletics, probably mostly because I was unathletic, and honestly, I preferred to be home.

But at the ripe old age of 18, I knew if I didn’t do something hard, something completely out of my comfort zone of homework, playing flute, and creating in my quiet room at home, I may not make it.  It went against everything in me to try something new, especially my senior year.  Who tries something new their senior year?  Desperate people.  And I was desperate.  So this very insecure, unathletic band-nerd signed up for the cross-country ski team.  Knees knocking and a pit in my stomach spoke of my dreading all the unknowns.  My parents who wanted to see change probably more than I did, invested in ski equipment, most likely beyond their means.  Usually in the scheme of life, change costs something.

Alaskan View Ski Tracks

And so my senior year, the year that is supposed to be a victory lap of all the things you know, became a year of embracing something new and unknown by trampling on my own insecurity with the glide of a pair of skis, and pushing my body physically through pain and cold during races.  The ski team was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I learned technique; they said I had great form.  But the day of time trials proved that the clock doesn’t lie.  I was soon to become a sloth-like mascot.

The incredible thing was, they didn’t care that I was an awkward senior who’s pace measured slow; they didn’t care that I was a lonely girl whose only familiarity was books and band.  They embraced me; they cheered for the JV Senior, like I was on the varsity team; they invited me to their parties with pizza and soda; they showed me how to wax skis and how to laugh off the too-skinny nylon body suits.  Even though it was completely out of my comfort zone, that ski team was grace to me.  There were new friendships forged, faces to laugh with, and a place to belong.

When Grace Sounded Like a Still Small Voice

My first 10K race took place in Homer, Alaska, a six hour window-frosted school bus ride from home.  The 10K was some five laps around a small course; I thought it would never end.  Determination was my friend even if speed did not accompany me.  I’ll never forget how proud my brother was of me when I finished.  Two years my younger, and a much accomplished athlete, he was ecstatic.  “Let’s call Mom and Dad and tell them you finished!”  His enthusiasm alone brought me encouragement.  But in that moment of fishing for quarters to fit in the slot of a school payphone, for the first time in my life, I heard that still small voice.  “No not today, don’t call home today.”  And so I told him, “No, we’re not supposed to call home today.”

Two nights later we arrived home from a cold, long bus ride.  My mom greeted us in the hallway of our high school, and I knew.  I knew God’s arms had wrapped me up the last two days, that He had been with me, and that He had protected me.  While I was finishing my first 10K race, my dear friend had finished his with leukemia, straight into the arms of Jesus.

Grace, pure grace.  Grace doesn’t always look like a prayer at church or a Facebook meme.  Grace sometimes comes in profoundly different packages.  Sometimes grace looks like a high school ski team and sounds like a still small voice.  Sometimes grace is the ability to do that thing that looks and feels hard or impossible, but could change the course of your life.  Sometimes, we just need to ask God to open our eyes, to see grace for what it is, in between all the cracks and brokenness of life.  Sometimes we just need to remember His miracles and mighty deeds and believe in His grace will do it again.

 

Thanks for joining me today,

Cheryl

 

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