What can ski school teach the church?

'Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow.' Mary Anne Radmacher

If we're honest, sometimes we don't want to show up to stuff. Maybe it's because we have a sense of how a particular event/get together/meeting will go, how a particular group will make us feel or a better option has popped up which just feels easier. It's tempting some days to hide behind the excuse of busyness with an apologetic text with teary emoji sign off than to show up on days when we feel like hiding.

This is exactly what I wanted to do on day 2 of ski school this Easter on our boys first ever ski holiday.

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It was 17 years since I last skied so I had virtually forgotten everything (including how terrified I feel at the top of steep snowy slopes with skis strapped to my feet).

Day one I was all gung ho and ready for action. After a few falls the memories came flooding back and I felt less invincible. Day two I woke up with a heavy cold, hacking cough and thumping head only to pull back the curtain to see a blizzard blowing, hear the wind howling and realise it was an almost total white out.

I didn't want to show up to ski school. But the crushing realisation dawned that hiding behind a teary emoji text simply wasn't an option.

There was nowhere to hide. I had to show up. I had to be all in.

I reluctantly hauled on my Salopettes while downing Ibuprofen, sucking Strepsils and stuffing as many tissues as possible into my pockets, and trudged down to meet my ski school group. They knew by the look on my face that I wasn't feeling the love for skiing that morning. Despite the language barriers between us – the welcoming thumbs up, smiles and collective pointing to sore knees created an instant bond and sense of solidarity between us. We were all ages, shapes, sizes, languages and backgrounds but our common purpose united us. One for all and all for one. The mountain would not defeat us!

This sense of being in it together was amazing for such a band of virtual strangers. When Bridget Jones-esque like I couldn't quite master the chair lift and fell over backwards rather than effortlessly skiing off like everyone else – someone offered me an arm to stop me sliding backwards down the slope. Each time someone fell over the others would stop beside them, shuffling close to allow them to lean in and stand up again, with an empathetic head nod, extended arm and understanding smile. We would all wait until the last skier arrived at our agreed point so no one got left behind.

If someone (usually me) was paralysed with fear at the top of an intimidatingly steep slopes we helped each other face the sense of being overwhelmed by breaking the run down into manageable chunks. Sometimes we followed someone's tracks, sometimes we pointed out where to turn, and slowly by slowly, turn by turn we all got down the mountain together. With a sense of euphoria at having mastered our fears and reached the end intact!

Without common language everyone had to embody what they wanted to express. It was beautiful to see.

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From the distance of my bedroom window that morning the skiers on the mountain had looked like an intimidating homogenous army of ants, gliding along effortlessly without a care in the world. I was so glad I had showed up. My perspective completely changed once I made myself present rather than letting their seeming perfection put me off. I discovered that everyone was facing throbbing knees or injury related aches, or wobbles about the weather changing, or unexpected icy patches and slushy parts.

It was a beautiful thing. 

That ski group was a safe place where we could take dangerous risks and make ourselves vulnerable. We could aim higher and stretch ourselves – knowing we would have a shoulder to lean on, literally, when we wobbled and fell. No judging. No sneering. No shame.

There was a group of young disabled skiers who were being guided down the mountain in tandem with instructors. The look of utter exhilaration on their faces as the wind swept their hair and the speed made their hearts pound was incredible. Little toddlers were guided between their parents' legs, and when they fell over the parents would turn the shock into a game pulling a funny face shouting ' OOOH BIG BUMP! YAY!'

Elderly people learning for the first time encouraged each other to keep on going with jokes about what flavour the snow was that morning as they took another nosedive and subsequent mouthful.

It was amazing that all over the mountains throughout that week bands of virtual strangers of all ages, lifestyles and cultures were forging friendships as they extended arms, grabbed hands, shuffled their bodies closer and offered a safe place to lean. Helping each other face overwhelm, fear, anxiety and not to feel defeated by the enormity of the slope ahead.

It felt so good to be all in. And all in it together.

What a beautiful metaphor for how we can be as the church. We can be a church family where we love in an up close and personal way in intimacy and action – sharing struggles, wobbles, fears and failings. We can be a safe place for people to be dangerously honest. Where there is always an extended hand when, not if, we fall flat on our face.

We may experience a taste of this if we have a great small group or church family. Sadly this isn't everyone's experience of church. There is a need for all of us to ask ourselves how we can be better at embodying what we want to express to those in our families, our streets and neighbourhoods?

From a distance there is a danger that to our communities we can look as inaccessible and homogenous as the seemingly effortless skiing ants looked to me from my bedroom window. Without authentic relationships being offered, the church family can look and feel like a place where everyone has it together, are gliding through life with Pinterest level of perfection.

How can we as individuals and collectively reduce the distance between ourselves within and outside of our church families to show our love in action? How can we create spaces where people feel connected, supported and all in it together throughout the twists and turns of the journey ahead?

In our technology driven age it's too easy for us to be virtually present, digitally dialoguing at a distance. Showing up and being present demands more mess and less gloss. How can we be present more tangibly with each other in our churches, our families, our friendships, our communities – to demonstrate the 'one-another' li-ness that Jesus called for.

Showing up with our whole selves to offer support. To make eye contact, smile, cry, cheer each other on. To offer time, not just our well-meaning texts. To get up close and personal, sharing our backstory, even when it costs us time and energy, and allowing others to lean in close when the slope gets too steep.

Jesus embodied this intimacy, this love in action, this tangible touch of love. His hands washed the grime off the feet of his disciples, his fingers scooped the mud off the ground to place it on the blind man's eyes. His feet walked through the streets to the cross and surrendered to nails in the name of love.

He calls us to love in intimacy and action – to 'Love one another as I have loved you.'

To show up, get close and personal and be all in.

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