1) THROUGH ANOTHER PERSON’S EYES. Every person experiences the mountain differently. Just because it is the same mountain does not mean that everyone sees it the same way. The person from Switzerland experiences it differently than the person from Phoenix. The young experience it differently than those older. The porters experience it differently than the tourists. And a person with fibromyalgia and IBS experiences it differently than someone who does not face that challenge. However, just because each person’s story and experience is different doesn’t make one person right or wrong. We gain a lot when we can begin to see the mountain through another person’s eyes. Looking through Eric’s eyes, I saw how the mountain was a vacation for him, a chance to get away and breathe, the fulfillment of a dream. Through him, I saw the various patterns and textures of the earth as we climbed. When Eric looked through my eyes, he saw the intensity of the challenge, the sacrifice that it took to get to this point, the mental battle to push past the pain, and the indomitable spirit required to achieve this goal. By looking through each other’s eyes, we gained a new respect for the mountain and for each other.
2) THE GUIDE’S PACE. Sometimes our guide seemed to go at a snail’s pace. There were times when we wanted simply to push on ahead and complete the task as quickly as possible, or at least faster than the present speed. However, the guide knew better. He knew that if we climbed the mountain too quickly, altitude sickness would set in and we would never make it to the top. While it would have been easy to accomplish the short term goals a lot faster, he had the ultimate goal in mind. So it is with our eternal Guide.
3) PERSEVERANCE AND DISCERNMENT. When challenges hit, sometimes it means we should take another path, and sometimes it’s simply time to persevere, to look past the pain. It can be difficult to know which time is which. That’s why it’s always a good idea to discuss such matters with your Guide.
4) BREATHE. It’s really beneficial to stop sometimes, to take a step back, to breathe, and to look around. It is so easy to lose appreciation for the journey when you want to achieve the goal so badly. When we get so focused on what we are doing, we can lose sight of the beauty and diversity around us. Plus, we save ourselves a lot of headaches when we take those moments to breathe.
5) THE NEXT STEP. During the night of the summit, we traversed a seemingly endless amount of switchbacks—right, left, right, left. We could see the top of the peak, but it always seemed so far away. Our guide told us, “Don’t look too far ahead. Focus on my feet.” The sentiment reminded me of Stormie Omartian’s book “Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On: Trusting God in Tough Times.” Sometimes looking too far ahead can be intensely overwhelming and not helpful. We just needed to focus on that next step, and then the next, and then the next. It’s not comfortable, especially for Americans who like to plan every last part of our lives, but this technique is often necessary.
6) STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS. Many people might think that climbing Kilimanjaro is empowering. “Look at me. Look at how strong I am. I can do anything. I’m on top of the world.” That wasn’t my experience at all. When I reached the top, I didn’t feel strong. I felt intensely weak. For hours I had pushed past the pain. I had “dug deep,” and all I wanted was a blessed release from the pain. That is what the top meant to me when I reached it—I could finally turn around and begin heading towards a place where I could rest. Maybe I had conquered the mountain, but it had also conquered me. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, I could not have done it alone. I could not have reached the top without someone carrying my pack for me. I could not have reached the top without the encouragement of Eric, without his reminders that people were praying for us. I could not have reached the top without the expertise of our guides. I could not have reached the top without Diamox helping my body absorb oxygen at maximum efficiency. I could not have reached the top without a community of support praying for us, a community that believed in us and in our school enough to pledge money for every step. And I could not have done it without God. So many things could have gone wrong that didn’t. So many things could have made this goal impossible to accomplish. But by the grace of God, I did make it to the top, and maybe it’s better that I didn’t have a “mountaintop experience” in that moment. There is a part of me that wants to be seen as a champion, a part that wants to be the hero and inspire people. However, I can’t pretend that I felt victorious or that the smile wasn’t plastered on a tear-stained face. That picture on the mountain will always be a reminder to me—a reminder of God’s words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I echo Saint Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10).