The One About A Bracelet


Our alarms were set and set with just enough time to get ready; set to not be rushing, but set so there wasn’t much time to dawdle either. We were going to have roughly 2-3 hours of sleep, or closer to two if you were like me and had to wake up to use the bathroom during that already too short chunk of beloved sleep.

I cannot tell you how much it sucked to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag, throw on even more layers, grab my headlamp, stumble out into the bitter cold alone and walk down the dark rocky path to use the squatty potty, which required extra skill with so many layers on, and then stumble back slowly to the hut with a slight limp from sore muscles and lack of proper oxygen flow being at 15,520 feet above sea level. But I digress…

As we went to bed for our short rest, and set our alarms for the unseemly early wake up, we all had laid out what we needed, or thought we needed, for our summit night climb. You want to see people check, double check and then triple check (or triple guess) themselves – climb Mt Kilimanjaro where you have no idea what to pack or wear any given day. It’s fun (insert eye roll).

My backpack was packed, with the goal of carrying a light of a load as one could get away with for the rough climb ahead. Sitting next to my backpack were my trekking poles, headlamp, water bottles, very dusty boots, and my outer and extra layers I was going to still throw on when I woke up. The neatly folded piles were quite the juxtaposition sitting next to my duffle bag that look like it had imploded due to my unpacking and lack of proper repacking while getting set up. In my completely unprofessional opinion, and after consulting with my people several times, I was ready for summit night. 

When the alarm went off in our dark and chilly cabin, we all quietly started moving around, preparing ourselves for the last push to the summit. The closer it got to leaving our cabin to meet up with the team, the more my nerves grew with all sorts of emotions. You want to talk about anxious, excited energy, I had it whirring through me and didn’t know how to calm it. In trying to keep my tired head on straight with what I needed to do, all the while trying to manage my rising anxiety, I started the mental check list of everything I needed.

Gloves: check. Kleenex: check. Sunscreen: check. …check check che…wait! No no no…I don’t have everything!! We’re MINUTES from walking out the door and I was missing something that in my mind, and heart, was crucial. I don’t know if I actually verbalized this moment of panic, or if Barry knew me well enough, but he came over and asked me what was wrong; what I was missing. I told him, with tears brimming in my eyes, “My bracelet.” 

I didn’t have the bracelet that my oldest daughter had given to me at the very beginning of my Kilimanjaro journey, ten months earlier. My daughter Ryah gave me this simple little bracelet made up of pink yarn and six silver cubes with letters on them that spelled out the word “strong”. When she first gave it to me, I remember just staring at it and asked her, “You think I’m strong?” She looked at me like I was crazy, “Uh, yes!” She told me that I must be strong to take on such a big task with a huge goal, and to train as hard as I was. For someone like myself, who never once in my life felt strong, I was totally blown away that someone could believe that I am. Her belief and confidence in me was a huge motivator in my training, especially on days when I wanted to throw in the towel. The bracelet never fit around my wrist, but I had that bracelet in my pocket on every hike I went on while training for Kili. Every. Single. Hike. 

I had brought it with me on Kilimanjaro, with full intent on that bracelet making it to the top of Uhuru Peak. But here, minutes before departing for summit night, I didn’t have the bracelet in my prepared items and could not find it anywhere. I felt so sad. This may sound ridiculous, and perhaps one could blame exhaustion, nerves and/or altitude, but I had tears in my eyes thinking that I had messed this up and lost the piece of home I needed to have with me.

When Barry asked if he could help, I told him not to bother, it was no use and just a silly bracelet after all. I’m fine. (Code for: I’m not fine at all). Without hesitation or request, Barry and Zack, who both barely know the story behind it, but seeing that it was important to me, started searching for it. They were on all fours with their headlamps looking under my bunk, tornado styling it through my duffle bag until Barry found it in the bottom of my bag. I immediately felt like everything clicked back into place. I didn’t even feel that nervous anymore.

I know I could have made that climb without that piece of pink string with the silver letters, but to have that tangible motivation; the reminder that I had girls back home looking up to me who think I’m strong, it was priceless in my journey. 

I zipped the bracelet into an inner layer chest pocket and went to work. Eight or so hours later, as I stood atop Mount Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak at 19,341ft, I put my hand on my heart, where the bracelet was, and cried happy, happy tears.

“I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:13

Burn it Down

Today as I sat in my counselor’s office, we spoke about Kilimanjaro and how it’s quickly approaching. We spoke about various aspects of the trip, and I laid out some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with. One of my fears is that I won’t summit the mountain – that I will have done all this hard work and not accomplish the overall goal, and within that, I will let people down.

She listened to me spew my fears one after the other. She then leaned in and asked,

“What does this mountain represent to you?” 

My first thought was that it doesn’t represent anything. 

Yet, it does.  I sat there and thought on it…

Through tears and with a shaky voice, I spoke what I think this mountain represents to me. 

It represents beginning again and freedom. 

Freedom from all the years of lies I heard and the lies I told myself.

I’ve been envisioning the lies as sticks, sticks being added to a pile that has been growing and growing…for years. I keep turning to the lies, whether someone handed that stick to me, or I picked it up for myself, I just accept it and add it to the pile. 

I am unable to be brave – take the stick. 
I am incapable of doing hard things – take the stick. 
I am not worthy of having or receiving God’s best – take the stick. 
I am too broken – take the stick. 
I am not enough for my family, for my friends, for ministry – take the stick. 
I am weak – take the stick.

Soon, I am surrounded on all sides. Surrounded, stuck and isolated.

But enough is enough. 

I’m burning it down. 

When I take my first step through the Marangu Gate and onto that mountain, it is my way of taking a match and burning down the whole freaking pile of sticks.

There is strength in admitting weakness and there is bravery in beginning again…and again and again…

The victory for me isn’t in taking that final step to the summit – although that would be quite amazing if I can do that!
The victory for me is in that first step, knowing all the countless steps it has taken for me to get even there.
And the victory is in believing God’s Truths, moment by moment; not entombing myself with lies. 

Kilimanjaro isn’t my end goal,

it’s my starting point.

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

“Why raise money to build a soccer field when these kids need more basic things like food, shelter and clothes?”

This is a question I hear often and even wrestled with it myself at the beginning of this journey…

Kids from Mathare do live in a desperately poor community. It is often referred to as a slum, with all the features of one: no infrastructure and few resources for education, food, work, or healthcare.

The hopeful news is that the work Missions of Hope started almost 20 years ago has visibly and substantively changed the community, even for families whose children do not attend MOHI schools. There are more businesses, roads, electricity, water, etc, because the government has responded to the work of MOHI to build public awareness for the community. Always, the students in MOHI schools get two good meals a day, uniforms, healthcare, and a GREAT education. All of this was non-existent prior to MOHI and it’s partnership with CMF.  

The need for safe places to play and learn the lessons provided by sports is a next-level need, but a need nontheless. Imagine what it says to a child in Mathare that her community has the capacity for such a resource?

Access to faith-based sports programs gives kids the opportunity to grow in new and significant ways, to put their gifts and education into practice to become all God intends for them: Christian leaders for Kenya and the world!

100% of your donation goes to support clean, safe, places to play for these children living in one of the biggest slums in the world –the Mathare Valley, Nairobi, Kenya

We are currently 67% of goal….and only a few more weeks to go!! To donate to our team’s fundraising goal, please click here. Thank you for being on this journey with me and thank you for your generosity!

Thank you as always to Dane Voorhees on the beautiful photos from Kenya!

The WHY Behind It

The number one question I get these days: 

Why? – why am I going on this trip; why did I decide to take on such a big challenge; why Kilimanjaro; why Africa….

The problem with the why questions, is that my answer to that is so big and detailed, that I usually end up giving a shortened, abbreviated answer. There’s not usually enough time in that moment to give the full answer that I want to give, so I  just go generic and keep it simple. 

Here’s what my generic, simple answer looks like, “Because I like hiking and Matt’s passion and excitement for the MOHI organization in Kenya has spread to me.” 

All fine and true. 

But that’s not the full answer. 

The full answer is much deeper. It’s messy and raw. It surely isn’t an ‘in passing’ kind of answer, and until now, I haven’t really shared it with too many people. Not because it’s some big secret, but because it can be hard to talk about. Most of the time I’m content to just give the simple, generic answer because it’s easier. 

Unfortunately, I keep feeling this prodding in my spirit, that I need to share my why…in all its messy, dark form. Gonna get real folks…

Let’s rewind back to last year. Actually, we could rewind back to various years and seasons in my life when this would apply, but I’m going with the most recent year that applies to the context of this story. 

Last year wasn’t good for me. On and off for years, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. Sometimes it’s manageable, sometimes I’m totally awesome and yet sometimes, it’s crippling. Sometimes when I’m in the dark recesses of my mind, I fall into the enemy’s traps and lies and I spiral.

Last year I spiraled.

Did you notice anything off with me last year? Most of you would probably say no. Maybe my people closest to me would say something felt off but couldn’t put their finger on it. I’ve gotten really good at hiding it. Faking it. But faking it just feels like a lie and masking the struggle is exhausting.

I begin to believe the lie that I can handle it on my own. So many lies start to make sense and sound like the truth to me. Lies such as: I can’t open up about my struggles. I am in control. I don’t need help. I am alone.

The problem with battling the darkness in one’s mind, is that it isn’t a battle you possibly could win on your own. The enemy thrives in the darkness. He loves that we keep our struggles to ourselves. He loves to see us struggle and to see us drowning.

There was a specific night, last November, that I couldn’t sleep. I was drowning in the darkness that I was allowing myself to get lost in.

I was losing control.

I was believing every lie fed to me by the enemy: I’m not good enough. I’ve messed up too much in my life to ever deserve any goodness or love. It would be easier if I were gone. No one cares.

That night I was tossing and turning, quietly crying, riddled with anxiety and I knew it was time to bring light to this darkness. It was 3am. I went downstairs, turned on a lamp and wrote out a long letter to my husband. In that letter I expressed all the things I couldn’t actually vocalize with my words. Words often fail on my lips…written words are easier for me. I shared with him what I was going through, what it felt like for me most days, and I asked for help. Gang, asking for help is not easy.

Over the next couple of months, I opened up to people in my life who I thought needed to know my struggles. I didn’t need everyone to know, but I did need specific people to know. Darkness is diminished by light. I needed to bring my battles and struggles into the light. I went to my doctor and got on some medication to help with the depression. I began to take steps to healing and was feeling better day by day. I was abiding in the life giving hope and Truths in God’s Word. 

Something that I began to see within myself was how I’ve let fear rule my life. Fear unchecked can turn into anxiety. Fear and anxiety left to fester in the hiding, battling alone and in isolation, can turn into depression. At least this was what I saw patterns of within my own story. I knew that a turning point for me would be avoiding isolation and not giving fear a foothold. I started to say yes to things that otherwise I would’ve said no to out of fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. You get the idea… 

When my friend Barry posted on his Facebook that he was going back to Kilimanjaro and had some spots left open on their team, I actually didn’t have any hesitation; it was a yes. I knew deep down that I had to do this. I knew that this would give me the perfect opportunity to say yes to more hard things and little by little overcome some big fear hurdles. This whole, huge adventure really has nothing to do with hiking, well, I mean, the hiking is a great benefit. But it was never really about the hiking; it has always been about going out in faith to accomplish things I think God has for me. Just putting one shaky foot in front of the other and going.

My first fear challenge in saying yes to Kilimanjaro was the fear of failure. What if I don’t summit? What if I let everyone down? Barry’s wife Mendi spoke such truth into my life that first night we met up to talk about the trip. I had tears in my eyes as she spoke, telling me that if I don’t summit, I did not fail. She told me that failure would be in me not going on this trip. Failure would be me not leaving my family to get on a plane and fly to Africa to do something incredible. Mendi, you spoke the words my heart needed to hear that night. Thank you. 

I’ve had many fear challenges since then, and I know there are still plenty ahead, but it has actually felt quite exhilarating to overcome them, or at least make progress toward overcoming them. This year of training and saying yes to big things, has also been a year of healing and growth for me. It truly has been a blessing to be apart of this adventure and we haven’t even left yet! 

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

John 15:4-5, 9