In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." His sacred words came to mind on a recent family trip to ski in the San Bernadino mountains.
Mine is a family of recent vintage. Last year my husband and I adopted our son, Vasco, age 11. The "ski week" trip was our first official vacation as a family. Even though my son hails from the sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi, where snow is a phenomenon only seen in movies, last winter Vasco's uncle gave him a snowboard and he took to the alpine sport like a native snow bird. So this year, when it came time for his winter school break, Vasco was eager to take his board back to the slopes.
My husband and I know how to ski, but it had been many years since either of us had dusted off the two planks and taken them for a spin down the mountain. On that first trip up the mountain in the three-person lift, my anxiety swelled and my knuckles grew whiter as I peered down at the ski trails below us. As the lift rose higher and higher, I began to panic. Had we bitten off more than we could chew? The trail we'd chosen was marked as a beginner/intermediate slope, but it sure didn't look like one from my bird’s eye view. Visions of the three of us tumbling down the long side of the mountain danced in my head.
All of us managed to dismount the lift without breaking any limbs. That was a good start. Still, I worried that we'd never make it back to the base of the mountain in one piece. We stopped at the top of the mountain -- majestic views surrounding us on all sides with a white tableau that reminded Vasco of C.S. Lewis' Narnia -- to check the trail map one last time, before pointing our boots downward and pushing off together.
"Follow Daddy," I cautioned Vasco. "If you fall, we'll wait for you and help you up if you need it. Wait for us down there where the trail turns. Be careful. I love you."
"I love you too, Mom," my boy said as he swished down the slope ahead of me.
The week before we left for the mountains, Vasco had been frustrated by a particularly challenging homework assignment. In a fit of evangelical zeal, I reminded him of the Bible verse that says we "can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens us." That became my nervous prayer as my family descended that snow-covered mountain. Whether it was muscle memory or the Holy Spirit or both, we made it safely -- valiantly, even -- back down the mountain together. When one of us fell, the others would wait and lend a hand. Each of us experienced grace-filled spurts of elegant skiing. We were pretty proud of ourselves when we stopped for hot chocolate at the ski chalet before climbing aboard the lift and doing it all over again.
It's now spring, and as I look back on our ski vacation, Jesus’ words return to me with new power. Two years ago, Vasco arrived in Chicago. He was an orphan with a serious heart defect who had come for life-saving surgery. At the time, we banished thoughts of adopting him. It was simply impossible, we were told. Not in Malawi.
But in the corners of our hearts, there were seeds of faith that God used to move mountains. Doors opened, miracles happened, and now Vasco is our forever son.
Even the weakest faith can give us the power to climb or move mountains. And occasionally, when necessary, faith allows us to ski down them with startling grace.
Cathleen Falsani is author of The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers.