I started skiing when I was five. At five, I learned how to buckle bindings on ski boots and how to strap your feet to two narrow boards so you could fly down a snow-covered mountain.
Skiing was the sport of choice for my family in the winter. We lived just five minutes away from a small ski mountain and we weren’t rich, but there was always money for a family pass. (That was back in the day where a family pass was a family pass, no limitations on how many people could be in your family before you had to start paying extra fees.)
We’d pack ourselves up in our big old van, around three to four times a week and it was never enough for us. We’d eat supper before we went and we only ever stopped long enough to go to the bathroom. We didn’t want to waste time in the lodge when we could be screaming down the hills.
*above pictures taken by my sister, Hannah Pratt
When I was ten years old, I met my first black diamond. My siblings had told me a black diamond was a really steep hill and said I probably couldn’t do it. That was enough for me. “Oh yes I can,” I insisted and so we made our way to that black diamond called the Fearless Leader and I stubbornly started after my sister and brother.
Halfway down and they had gone over a knoll in the trail and I couldn’t see them anymore, and all of a sudden my knees felt weak. I was terrified. The hill just felt like it was getting steeper and steeper the further down I went.
So I sat down. Plopped down on my butt, right in the middle of the trail and screamed for my sister and shouted into the wind that I couldn’t do it. Finally, I took off my skis, slung them over my shoulder and started walking.
That’s right. I started walking. (Have you ever walked for long in a pair of ski boots? Enough said.) I walked straight down that black diamond hill and met a worried and furious sister and brother at the bottom: “You scared us so bad! What have you been doing? We are never taking you on a black diamond again!”
That was fine by me, because I never wanted to go on a black diamond again.
Later that day, it was my oldest brother Brian’s turn to ski with me. Skiing with a big bunch of siblings like I had, meant the older ones all took turns skiing different levels with the younger ones.
“I think we should do the Fearless Leader,” he said.
“I can’t!” I protested, “that one is just too steep.”
“Renee,” he said, “you’ve done the Giant. There is hardly any difference between the Giant trail and the Fearless Leader. I think you can do it. Listen, I’m going to take you to that trail and we’re going to do it. I’ll ski slow and you just follow me close, all the way down the hill. Just do what I do.”
I felt so scared when we got to the top of that hill, but before I could protest again, my brother’s skis had crested the top of the hill and I didn’t want to be left behind, so before I knew it, mine had too.
We skied slow and calculated until we got about halfway down the hill and I remember telling my brother, “We can ski faster than this you know.” He had grinned and I had grinned back, before we cut loose and careened down what remained of the Fearless Leader.
It became my favorite trail.
It was two am on a Thursday morning when I remembered this story, how excited I was to conquer that trail. I did every black diamond on the mountain that day, plus one double black, and skiing only became more of a thrilling adventure.
I didn’t realize then that a whole lot more had been conquered than a snow-covered ski path. But at two am on a Thursday morning, rocking my baby girl in my rocking chair, I remembered this story and I saw the victory for what it really was. I had faced a paralyzing fear and I had won.
I had also been led.
Rocking away, I had been sitting there thinking that I could never foster another child again. I had been thinking about how each child has wildly and beautifully destroyed my heart and how it just wasn’t in me to keep going.
The responsible thing would be to stop upending my life anyways.
Eighteen years later and I was plopping my butt down in the middle of the trail again.
It’s enough. I have done my reasonable service.
Yes, I actually thought those words.
And even as I thought them I knew better.
When I had told my friend Paula how we got our phone call about Vaeh in December – just before Leo’s adoption – and how I struggled after we said yes, because I worried that we had been rash, I told her that I had asked God to please show me that we had made the right decision.
You see, we had made a pledge to not enter into another fostering-type situation, until our son Leo’s adoption was finalized. When we said “yes, we would take this baby girl due in February”, we knew the adoption was coming, but didn’t actually have it officially completed.
The day after our big yes, I worried and I prayed all morning and I asked God to show me that we had not just made an emotional choice. We got home just after lunch, I got the mail and there it was – our adoption papers stating that it would be finalized in six days.
It was like God was saying, “you’re good, you’re good”… “I’ve got your back.”
So when I told my friend Paula this, she said: “And there will be times in this journey with your girl, that you will need to go back to that reassurance, to be reminded that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.”
Two in the morning and I’m sitting there rocking and setting my heart down in the middle of the trail, saying enough, when this story, almost twenty-years old, about skis and ski mountains and facing your fear, comes flooding back.
I was led down that hill same as I am being led up this one.
I can face my fear like I did on that trail, or I can let that fear stop me in my tracks and keep me from the joy. Paralyze my heart.
Fear always paralyzes one thing and keeps you from something else.
The next day, I hold her a little bit longer when she’s done eating. I talk to her longer. I wonder at her longer. She stares up at me with big eyes while I tell her she’s the sweetest pea in our pod. She blinks and keeps staring, and I gently tap her cheek and talk soft.
Her eyes light up and twinkle as her face breaks into the biggest smile.
There were 40 long NICU days and tremors and screams and long days and aching, tired bodies and emotional stress and complete and utter chaos at home, there is a heart destroyed with love for the boy with the brown fedora and the girl with the long eyelashes, there is sacrifice and frustration and impatience and anger and repentance, there are questions and confusion about what it means to be Jesus to the biological mommies and what loving them should be, and there is opinions about what should happen and what shouldn’t happen and about who deserves what and who doesn’t deserve what – and at the end of the day, or two o’clock in the morning, yeah —
I pretty much want to throw in the towel and say, “that’s it, no more”, but the moment I think it, I feel something bigger rising up in me and snuffing out that fear.
The love of God has compelled us to say yes, first to Leo and now to Vaeh, and I don’t know yet, but maybe it will move us on to say yes again.
And who am I to say enough, when I am held and constrained by a love that went all lengths to receive me?
Greater love there has never been.
So you can say YES…one big unreserved YES…to whatever crazy, impossible thing God calls you to do.
And He will lead you down that trail or up that mountain, and snuff out your worst fear, and you will make it, because you are extravagantly LOVED.
I don’t know what the future holds for our family and a part of me wants to beg God to never ask us to do anything like this again. But then… I look into the faces of my beautiful children and I see it there, in the twinkle of our little stars – the beauty of our best yes.