Three years ago, on International Women’s Day, I was standing on the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro raising money for sisters who live in the three most dangerous places in the world. This was no ordinary trip for me. We began in Rwanda, then crossed the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo, an active war zone. We met with women who were victims of sexual violence, and visited a fistula hospital, both of which are forever burned into the deep recesses of my mind and heart.
Stepping over the border into Congo was a supreme act of faith for me. As a mom of four, I feared for my life and questioned whether it was responsible for me to go. But sometimes God asks us to say a wild yes, and live a story beyond anything we would ever expect or imagine for ourselves. This was one of those times for me.
But the deep sense of vulnerability didn’t stop in Congo. The second part of the trip was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money for programs helping the women we met, and others like them. I have a heart condition and I had no idea how I would do at 19,000 feet, the elevation at the top of Africa. While stepping back over the border from Congo onto Rwandan soil felt like the conquering of one mountain, I still had another arduous climb ahead, both literal and figurative.
My family knew what a gut-wrenching decision this had been for me. They knew I had been up nights pleading with God to lead me and direct me, wrestling fear.
Erik prayed me through the dark hours of the early morning. The boys created playlists for my climb up the summit. Kenna offered hugs and words of encouragement. My sister made me a bracelet. Each one, plus my closest friends, wrote me letters to read at basecamp. Though we could not talk while I was on the trail, I knew they were all back home praying me up that mountain.
There was so much to say when I arrived at the hotel after our descent. While the climb up through the starry night was amazing, once we reached the top some things began to unravel. My worst fear came true and I did end up having problems with my heart at 19,000 feet. Someone from our team developed cerebral edema, a life threatening altitude sickness. A snow storm rolled in as we were descending. And to make matters worse, the satellite radio ran out of battery at the summit, so the sonar showed us remaining on top of the mountain with the storm on top of us, concerning all of our families for hours and hours.
After I recounted everything that had happened, Erik paused and said,
“I want you to know that through all of that we were summiting with you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked confused.
“We calculated about what time you would be summiting considering when you left basecamp and how long it would take you to get from camp to the top. Working back ten hours to make room for the time difference, we figured if we left the base of our local mountain at 6pm our time, we would summit around the same time as you.”
Tears immediately spilled down my cheeks. I had no words. Knowing that my family had been summiting their own mountain in solidarity with me on the other side of the world touched the deepest place in me.
While they couldn’t be physically with me, they were one hundred percent with me. They showed up when it meant the most. I was known. I was cared for. I was seen. I was worth the inconvenience. I was worth the effort. I was loved. Oh how I was loved.
Though I was not present for their climb, this will be one of the favorite memories of my life. There is no amount of money that can buy this kind of depth of love.
I’m not sure there is anything more sacred or holy than truly being with someone on their climbs through this life. Not just present, but with in that deep, knowing place that says “you’re not alone. I’m here as long as you’re here.”
Every single human heart longs for real, authentic connection that rises above circumstance and triumphs over superficial interactions. But it won’t just happen. We must choose authenticity and seek out people who have the capacity for selflessness, perseverance, kindness, grace, and love.
This starts with finding and choosing givers in our primary relationships. I happen to be married to one of the best givers, and I will thank God every day of my life that somehow I managed to have a wisdom beyond myself to choose him in my early twenties.
People who show up for one another live generously. They think of others. They inconvenience themselves. And they put their thoughts to action. I experienced this in the most profound way through my family.
My prayer for you is that you would also be the recipient of this kind of love in your life. And my prayer for all of us is that we would BE this kind of love to the world.
Let’s be people who are with. Let’s show up.