Sunday, January 16, 2011
everything is gift
Lauterbrunnen is in the valley beneath Wengen, my usual skiing spot, and although I bought a new pair of skis on ebay after my last trip, one thing and another has meant I am not on the rota for running the church in Wengen this season, and I thought I wouldn't get a chance to see how good they were. But after speaking with Catharine, I called Clive at Goldhill, discovered they had spaces on the holiday - and booked.
I have had a wonderful week.
Now - don't fear, this isn't just a holiday blog, I hope there's going to be more to this than that; but please, enjoy the snaps. The Jungfrau region is one of the wonders of the world. Truly glorious. Just being there is a gift.
The Goldhill group is made up of (mostly) Christians from all over the UK, with varying degrees of winter sports experience. We get lessons in the morning, ski for fun in the afternoon, and then eat together in the evening before worshipping together, hearing a short talk, and decamping to the pub. In the past, I've taken groups from St Catherine's, but this time the only person I really knew was the aformentioned Catharine Morris and then I had met some of her friends before. You go hoping that there will be a decent crowd. These folk were just great - from retired pilots to university professors to a couple of students to nurses to doctors, from north to south, Scotland, England and Wales, it was a great group of people. I especially enjoyed time spent with folk from Derby, and with the speaker for the week, Ian. More of him, and his compassion, later.
Everything is gift. Going (basically) alone - how was this going to be? Wonderful.
Gift number two: those new skis I mentioned. I bought them on eBay sight unseen. I bought them cos I'd seen a pair like them in Wengen, and cos they were a serious upgrade from my old skis. Volants. Gold Volants. Handmade in Austria. I knew I'd had a bargain, but on Thursday evening I enjoyed a birthday meal (gift number 3) with Paul & Sarah Parker (whose marriage blessing I conducted a couple of years back in Wengen) and a couple of the other guests work in one of the ski shops there and were interested to hear what skis I used. When I told them, they were surprised. "EBay," I confessed, knowing that this is not something you say to folk who work in a real shop. They wanted to know how much I had paid, and I told them, thinking I'd paid about a third of what I should have. I was in error. Their current shop price simply adds a zero on mine...
I tell you, I have never experienced skiing like it. And though I had a slight accident on the last day (I skiied into a cliff on a sharp corner - but the helmet took most of it; gift number 4, thanks Dad & Lorna, thanks Gill; otherwise it might have been nastier than the small scar I have on my right cheek) even that would have been far worse without the incredible response and power that these skis produce. Amazing.
Gift number five. One morning I just wanted to be alone for a while. I had a lot on my mind, and being with 50 people all the time gave me no time to pray and think. I needed head space. I wanted to be miserable for a short time, and to be able to enjoy it. So, I let everyone else leave, and then caught a later train to Wengen and headed on up the cable car - where a guy called Sean saw me and greeted me. Sean is working as a ski school instructor, but I know him as the other half of Sheridan who runs the DHO (Down Hill Only Ski Club) in Wengen. He asked what I was doing - "Skiing by myself today," I replied, and before I knew it he had his mobile out of his pocket and was calling Sheridan. "She's just working in the office," he said to me, and then to his phone, "Sheridan, Marcus is here & he's skiing alone, why don't you come & join him?"
So she did. And I lost my time alone. I wilted inside. But you know - Sheridan is a lovely, lovely person, and an amazing skiier, and she knows the mountains thoroughly, and one way to improve your skills is to follow someone brilliant. So I was given my own personal ski guide for the morning. Fantastic. Everything is gift. Then we ran into four other folk, three of whom are good friends from Wengen, and ski school teachers, including Karen, my first teacher. One amazing person to ski with was not gift enough. I was given five. I didn't get my headspace/misery time. I got something far more precious - friendships renewed and an incredible opportunity to ski with experts. Wonderful.
Gift number 6. I had some great conversations with folk during the week. One night stands out when three of us bunked out of a group activity and found a pub together, and just talked into the night. Two of us continued a bit later, and I had the chance to talk again with the other guy the day after on a train journey. We talked of ourselves, we talked of Jesus, we talked honestly and with laughter and with the odd restrained tear. Such moments are precious.
Gift number 7. Eating in the cold outside a restaurant on Catharine's birthday, because she always eats outside there. Sometimes gifts are bizarre! But it was a delight to be with Catharine & to see her this week. A million years ago, she & I prayed with Rob Graham in a prayer triplet, and we remembered him this week.
Gift number 8. The accident. The Helmet. The skis helping to slow me down so that when my head hit the wall it wasn't as bad as it could have been. And the humour of Ian skiing past me as I was plastered to a cliff face in agony, and he carried on all the way down to Wengen station... You can imagine I did not let him forget this. I told the group: "I'd like to tell you a story of compassion. I'd like to... but unfortunately..." Yes, the preacher just skiied on by on the other side. We had a great time - and had just done the Brandegg run from the top of the Eigernordwand lift in exhilaratingly fast time. The whole thing was fun - and that helmet was indeed a gift, as were all the jokes afterwards. At both our expense. You can read Ian's version of events here. (Seriously - it's a scar, not a scratch, don't believe anyone who says otherwise.)
Everything is gift. So much is unexpected. It would have been easy to focus on the negatives - being alone in a crowd, having to lock up my skis, scratching the new helmet, losing time alone, feeling like I get to have such conversations so rarely these days, and actually having an accident which left me feeling rather shaken - but every one of these things was part of something wonderful. It depends where you look. Eyes on the mess, eyes on Jesus? In my heart I am praying and working through so many things that seriously trouble me and steal sleep away night after night, yet even on a simple holiday week I see God pouring out his goodness. So why stare at the problems and worry without the ability to solve a thing? He is here and he is good.