Reaching 5895 meters above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the world's tallest free-standing mountain and the highest peak in Africa.* At the tender age of thirteen, I along with my sister and my father, set out to conquer Kili. Eager, and with spring in our steps we began the journey, three and a half days up, one and a half down. We carried only our day packs and were ready to run with the gazelles up the constant incline. Our guide, however, warned us against such sprints. His advice was simple, "polepole" - slowly. The idea was that going slowly at a sustainable speed would be quicker than a binge and purge approach. It's the story of the tortoise and the hare. It worked. Our trek was slow, but it was consistent.
Polepole. I am often overwhelmed at how much I have to learn, how much I have to grow. I have goals of being totally humble, completely faith-filled and perfect. While those goals are great things to aim for, they are not achieved over night neither are they achieved sprinting. Polepole. I hope that every day I can become a little more humble, gain a little more faith and move closer towards perfection, but the journey is long, the destination is still far away. What matters though is that I am on the journey, I am taking steps, no matter how polepole, in the right direction.
You might think this is a poor analogy if I tell you that I never made it to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. However, even in that there is a lesson to be learned. The goal set out for us was to summit for sunrise. My sleep, uncomfortable in a dorm of strange men and women, was cut short when I was awoken a little after one and beckoned to begin the journey heavenward. It was dark, the steep trail lit only by our head lamps. I was tired, grouchy. Our goal, which had previously been hidden from us by the clouds, was now cloaked in darkness. There was greater urgency than in the previous days. If we were to make our goal, we had to keep going.
I couldn't keep up. I didn't feel well. Whether it was because of the altitude, the physical exertion or the lack of sleep, i do not know, but I felt miserable. I begged for a break, and in the darkness I sat down.
I couldn't do it, I told them, and then I was told that I didn't have to. I could go back to the scary dorm room filled with strange men and go back to sleep.
The choice was mine - conquer Africa's highest peak or go back to bed. That was a big choice for little 13 year-old me. I knew hours of hiking were still ahead. The summit seemed to be nothing more than a fictitious promise, and surely the sunrise couldn't be that amazing.
I'm convinced I could have made it. While altitude sickness seems to be the most honourable excuse, I think I was just tired. Had I gotten up, taken just one step and then another, polepole I would have made it to the top. However, my sister, rather than encouraging me along, gave me a ultimatum. Now or never. "Let's go, and if you can't, then you go back and let us go on."** I went back. I spent the night coward in a corner of the dorm room hoping and praying that the men wouldn't touch me. So much for sleep.
My sister and my dad when on to summit the world's tallest free standing mountain while I stayed behind.
I'm thankful for the people who haven't left me behind as I journey to become more like Jesus. I too often I'm pouty, I sit down and complain that I can't do it. Every time I do, someone comes along and tells me to get up, to take another step, to look back at how far I've come, remember the strength I've been given thus far and to carry on. Little by little, inch by inch, do whatever I can do, and if all I can do is sit there for a minute or two, that is better than retreating. I love that the Gospel asks us just to do however little it is that we can. What matters is that I am on the right path, not the speed at which I am progressing and while I want to sprint towards the goal, I can't. It is too far away, but everyday I can learn something new, I can put into practice everything I've learned and step by step, polepole, I'll get closer to my goal. Will I succeed? Ultimately the choice is mine. A choice made up of a thousand choices. On Kili the choice was mine and this is no difference. I'm just thankful for those who have made the choices easier, who have encouraged and supported me and reminded me that I am where I need to be. I'm on the journey, I'm on the right path, I'm going in the right direction and that's what matters.
**I feel like I should defend my sister. She's great and we had a lot of fun together hiking up Kili. She was also a teenager, grumpy from not getting enough sleep, and well you can't expect much patience from a 16 year-old. She likewise has made little steps towards greater change, so when she decided that we should run 15 miles a couple years ago, and with less than a mile left I just wanted to give up, she wouldn't let me. She encouraged me every step and told me I could do it. It turns out that she was right, but I couldn't have done it alone. Thanks.