I climbed a mountain yesterday! It was incredibly challenging and also quite amazing. This was actually the third time I’ve climbed at least part of Mt. Nkhoma. The two other times I had no intention of finishing. This time was very different. In fact, I am very different. The changes I’ve made in my life greatly impacted the way I approached the mountain. Really, the growth I’ve experienced through this faith adventure has changed how I am approaching all of life’s challenges.
Myself, my two roommates Pauline and Leonie, and my friend Joel started our trip around 8:30 in the morning. Thankfully it was a cool day and there was even a little bit of drizzle. That was a huge blessing as it’s been getting hotter and hotter every day. I was the unofficial leader since I was the only one who’d done even part of the mountain before. I was fairly confident I could get us to where we needed to be, but thankfully there was a young Malawian boy who started walking with us. He was later joined by his two younger sisters who are actually students at Ebenezer where I am teaching this year. It turned out to be very beneficial to have them along even though I think the six-year-old could have climbed the mountain twice in the time it took me to do it. That was growth for me to be ok with that though. In the past I may have been embarrassed by that and been upset with myself. This time, I decided early on to be ok with whatever pace I needed to set. Finishing was the goal, it wasn’t about keeping up with anyone else.
The reality is I couldn’t have kept up with everyone even if I’d been trying to. I pushed myself, but I also kept things in a realistic perspective. Joel is six years younger than me, my roommates are half my age and they are all in much better shape than I am. The three Malawians are young kids who didn’t think twice about climbing the mountain, it’s in their blood. I consciously stayed focused on what I knew I needed to do, I took breaks when I needed to and I didn’t let the abilities of the others frustrate me about my own. In the past I would have felt inadequate and beat myself up over such situations. Through this experience, I was able to be gentle and show myself grace. My best was good enough.
It was also really helpful that we all wanted to do this together. There were times when the group would go ahead of me, but they were great about waiting for me at reasonable intervals. There were other times when someone would stay back with me and keep my pace. All of that was very much appreciated. Everyone was encouraging towards one another and we genuinely celebrated small victories all along the way. No one got tunnel vision, it was as much about the experience of climbing the mountain as it was about making it to the peak. It can be so easy to focus solely on the end results in life, but the lessons are learned on the path. Whether it’s the path to failure or the path to success you really do learn the most on your way there.
Another big change for me that this hike reflected was my ability to communicate in a healthier way. In the past I would internalize my frustrations, whether they were with myself or someone else. I would eventually explode or it would come out in rude snippy comments. This approach wasn’t effective or fair to the people in my life. There were many times throughout the hike that this could have been my reaction. Through the work I’m doing on myself with God’s help, I’ve learned to be more self-reflective and to recognize when and why I am getting upset. Now, instead of holding things in I am able to talk about things in a calm and productive way. The work I’ve done helped me both on the hike and in my daily life.
In my preparation for Malawi and in my time here, I really have learned a lot of lessons. I think on some level I was aware of the progress I’d made, but the hike up the mountain yesterday served as a mirror to really reflect on the growth that has happened within me. I’ve learned to accept myself for who I am and what I am able to do. Not in a complacent way as though there is no room for growth, but rather in a realistic, gentle and grace filled way. I think this kind of approach allows me to see myself the way God sees me and has helped me to love myself better. It’s also really important for me to remember that there will be lessons along the way. It’s not about seeing where everyone else is and trying to catch up and keep up with them. If I try to do that, I am convinced I will miss out on the lessons God has for me along the path that is life. Finally, my ability to communicate in a healthier way is something I believe will impact me and every relationship I have for the rest of my life. It has been such a key skill to grow in and I see the impact of it all around me. Whether it comes into play during difficult and challenging situations, when I’m trying to help a friend or even in the best of times, being able to communicate in a healthy way is absolutely paramount. I’m so thankful to God for this time in Malawi that allows me to grow, learn and reflect. I believe that wherever my path leads, or anyone’s path for that matter, God will continue to teach and show new things. We just need to pay attention and be willing to learn.