I went to the mountain house this weekend and saw my first snow of the season. It got me thinking about the last time I saw snow on that mountain...
Last Christmas was...well, it was different for the Sullivans. If you recall from some of my previous blogs, last year I made a promise to God that I would stop manipulating where my family was concerned. I wouldn't brush over awkward moments, sad moments, mad moments, hard moments. I wouldn't do a song and dance any longer to try and make everybody happy all the time. I mean, for heaven's sake, Marti. Somebody is gone. Somebody important. There is gonna be some screaming and crying and awkward moments every now and again. It is what it is. It was time for me to get over it and let the family become what we are going to become. Not continually lament that we weren't what we used to be and try to make us some version of that...
So. Jesus and I talked about this last summer. He opened my eyes to that sin, and I told Him I would do better. It went well for some time. But, as the holidays rolled around, I found myself wanting to do some orchestrating. Making sure everyone was where I felt they needed to be when I felt they needed to be there...
What can I say? I'm an addict. A manipulation addict. We aren't cured overnight.
I caught myself in the midst of it, though, and promised the Lord I would be happy in whatever circumstances He placed me and my family in that holiday season.
Famous last words.
Thanksgiving went awesome. I honestly began to see that my doing what I thought was "best" for my family all that time had actually been hurting them. When I stopped attempting the song and dance, stopped trying to make everyone happy all the time and fix everything I thought needed fixing, things did indeed become more peaceful. And I could see God work....as I got up out of His way! Turns out, I was the big problem all along...sigh...
Since Thanksgiving went so well, I was really excited about Christmas.
The weather report for the mountains was a bit grim for Christmas weekend, and my dad had to think long and hard about whether we would have Christmas in the mountains or not. But, in the end, he gave us the go ahead after talking to the neighbors and hiring a fellow to clear our very long and very steep driveway before we arrived. So, I took off from Charlotte on the 23rd leading the pack. Mom was not far behind me driving from Charleston, and dad loaded PJ up and left a bit later from Charleston. Alex and Pamela were to join us the following day.
My BFF Sarah Barnes and I had come up with this brilliant idea a week or so earlier that we would switch cars. I needed a 4x4 because of the mountain forecast, and she needed good gas mileage to drive to ATL to see her family, so we traded for a couple of weeks. I took her Explorer and she took my little sedan. Her tires weren't in the best shape, but it was better than rear wheel drive.
Me and Sarah and our "ideas." (insert eye roll)
These were my dad's last words to me as we discussed the condition of the roads in our neighborhood in the mountains: "Be veeeeeery careful, Marti. You only go as far as you feel comfortable. Then stop and wait on your mom. Do you hear me?" (My mom drives a Subaru Outback. That thing will go anywhere.)
My last words to my dad: "Yes, Daddy. I will."
I rolled up to our neighborhood at around 4pm, as I recall. The mountain road up to that point was completely cleared, but there was a good 10-12 inches on the ground as I passed the snow line. As I approached Mountain Meadows, our neighborhood, the steep hill at the entrance was completely covered in snow, and it was packed down.
I decided to go ahead and attempt the hill.
The truck took the hill with ease, and I began the half mile or so ascent up Mountain Meadows to our driveway, Dandelion Lane. My first sign of trouble came as I looked for a place to pull over at the base of our hill up to the house. Snow was piled high on both sides of the road, and the fellow dad had hired to clear Dandelion Lane was blocking the entrance of the driveway. I didn't want to stop on the incline and wait for him to move, afraid I would lose my traction.
I had nowhere to go but up...up, up, up...
I wound up at the tip-top of Mountain Meadows before I was able to find a place to maneuver the truck and turn around. At that moment, here is the situation I find myself in:
1. A steep downward slope before me. (Like I was about to jump off a black diamond run at Vale)
2. A wall of rock to my left.
3. A cliff to my right. Nothing to catch a fall. A cliff in every way the word implies.
As I sat there working up my nerve to begin the descent, and thinking of the best strategy...you guessed it...the truck began to slide. To the right.
The right where the cliff is.
Now, my foot is already on the brake so, clearly, that isn't an option. As much as I pump it and pull up the emergency brake, I continue the slide.
I have to tell you, I can't think of another moment in time that I have been more panicked. And that's really saying something because I was born a drama queen. I really can't think of another time I have been in more immediate danger. Except maybe the Yard Man incident of 2000, but that's a story for another day.
So, I'm no more than 10-15 feet from the edge and still sliding when I remember a Motel 6 radio commercial I had heard years earlier. It stuck with me. PTL. I remember that the Motel 6 guy said, randomly, in one of their commercials, that if you are sliding in a vehicle that you should turn the wheel in the direction of the slide...even though that is against EVERYTHING that your instincts tell you.
I did it. It totally worked.
However, even though out of immediate danger, my options at this point were grim. I couldn't abandon the car, because just the opening of the car door and me and the dogs jumping out would likely re-initiate the slide. In that moment, I did what I needed to do...
I called my dad screaming and crying.
But, devastating as it was, I knew he couldn't help me. He was still hours away. He tried to call the guy on the snow plow on our driveway, but he couldn't hear his phone over the plow. I could hear the plow still hard at work. Dad was beating himself up and apologizing to me, feeling like he had put me in that danger. You can imagine how that feels after losing a child. My parents want desperately for Alex and I to always be safe. As bad as he wanted to, he couldn't help me...
It was just me, my dogs, and Jesus up on that hill.
As I look back on it now, as the realization of what I was going to have to do washed over me that day, I see a lesson in it. So often, after tragedy or hurt or victimization or rejection or whatever, we feel like we'll never love or hope or feel or let ourselves be vulnerable again. We freeze up. Not moving towards the cliff, but not turning our wheel away from it, either, and easing off the brake.
I knew that's exactly what I had to do. It was, without question, the scariest moment of my life. I turned the wheel hard left, away from that cliff, and I began to ease off the brake. Thinking about it now, I have tears welling up in my eyes and a lump in my throat. I really thought I might go over that cliff. I did. But I knew...
I couldn't just sit still. I had to try. Me and Jesus. Up on that mountain...
The truck did indeed ease to the left, mercifully, and I managed to make it down the hill to the driveway. The saga was far from over, however. It's a long long story, but by the time the night was over and I was warm and safe up at the house, I had slammed that Explorer into the back of the snow plow that had been clearing our drive, and over 4 hours had passed.
But...I wasn't over that cliff.
I'm not saying easing off that brake was easy. I'm not saying the road in front of me was easy. I'm not saying it was pleasant to be stuck on that mountain for 4 hours in the snow. And I'm certainly not saying it was fun to slam that truck into the back of a snow plow. It all stunk.
But...I wasn't over that cliff.
Christmas 2009 was one that we will never ever forget. It involved a lot of snow, ice, and wind...and very little electricity. We cooked Christmas dinner in the fireplace and opened presents by candlelight. We snuggled to stay warm and played games in the dark. And even though I never would have chosen any of it, it was our best Christmas since we lost our beloved.
Christmas 2009 will be hard to beat.
I had to turn my wheel and ease off my own brake to consider life and family beyond Chad. It hasn't been easy...
But I'm not over a cliff. ;)