It's been a little over a month since we returned from our trip to Africa where we hosted Spark the Way's first ever charity climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro. 10 young adults from across the world came together to raise funds and awareness for our mission- to see, serve, and support young adults affected by cancer.
Of the 10 young adults, 3 of us were either cancer survivors or current fighters. As one of the cancer survivors on the trip, I'm real jazzed to tell you how God used this mountain climbing experience to remind me of His goodness during my cancer season.
Let me remind you that I'm from Florida, where we basically live below sea level. I've never been good with altitude, but I'm good at blindly signing myself up for things- things that I know God led me to do. This climb, like the entirety of Spark the Way, was one of those things. A conversation last April had me praying over the idea, and the external confirmations started to flow. I was starting to be surrounded by people who have climbed/were about to climb the mountain. Things like... I met someone in.Florida. who was also planning a climb for his own charity up Kilimanjaro. Then, when I told my chiropractor, he was super excited for us because, to my surprise, he had just signed up to climb it 2 months before us. After that, I had a meeting with a business mentor in St. Pete who brought a friend who happened to live at the base of Kilimanjaro as a missionary.... Things were getting crazy.
On June 11th, Sam, Kat and I took off from Miami International to Doha, where we met up with Dylan, Amy, and Ellyn. We flew from there to JRO and caught a van ride to the hotel. We got an extra day to rest and acclimate, and met Carly, Christiana, and Thomas upon their arrival the next day. We also met our mountain guide, Jimmy, who was a character and a half... He came around to our rooms, did a bag check, and helped us figure out if we were missing anything. Besides our will to live, eventually (shout out to mountain day 4).
The next day, 9 of us loaded onto the van and went to the Machame Gate, where a 10th climber, Alex, was added to our group. Look how cute, innocent, and naive we all are...
I'm sitting here laughing at this picture because we literally had no idea what was about to happen. I think we thought we had an idea, but we really didn't. At all. At literally all.
Fast forward about 5 hours. It's been pouring rain the entire time, it's getting cold already, the gluten free food for us celiac's wasn't great, and my lady time of the month was really making day 1 special. But in the same sense that I felt miserable, I was also very aware of the BEAUTIFUL scenery we were surrounded by. The rain forest we were walking through was like something you'd see in the movies. We continued on with our porters- these guys carried all of our big bags on their backs and were about 5x faster than us. Eventually, the group went ahead as Sam, Amy, Kat and I held back, getting to camp a few hours later.
Day 1 Journal:
Today was one of the hardest days ever, but you showed me a lot. A 5 hour hike turned into a 9 hour for us. Lord, give me peace and strength and, what Sam said, supernatural restoration and rest tonight. I kept talking to you, as you know, but I also couldn’t have made it without his encouragement and Kat's constant "I love you"'s in sign language. Give me direction as we move tomorrow. Amen.
June 16th was a little easier, but I woke up extremely exhausted...already. Mountain sleeping is hard, but the nausea was what got me. It had kicked in early on, so eating was hard, which left me a little on the weak side. It helped that the day was significantly shorter, about 4 or 5 hours long, but we still found ourselves hiking up a lot of inclines and climbing up big rocks. I was super jazzed to get to camp and nap that day.
Day 2 Journal:
I know I'm doing something right for God's kingdom when attacks are coming from all angles- which it seems is happening. But I'm learning a lot. Today was beyond my abilities, and I probably would've quit without Sam. Today was rocky, the air is THIN, and I'm feeling sick. It's going to be solely by the power of God in me that I get to move forward because I hit my max. My verses today are Deuteronomy 20:1-4 (I was going through a Scripture writing plan on Strength).
"When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own (this stupid mountain), you shall not be afraid of them for the Lord your God is with you. Today, you are drawing near against your enemies for battle. Let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you, against your enemies to get you the victory."
My fingers just froze.
Going into June 17th, I got 3 hours of sleep. BUT I got a lot of hours of worship, which ended up feeling even more restful than actual sleep. I know worship rests me, but I've never experienced it in a physical sense. So, to get up charged and ready to go only after a few hours of sleep was to learn a new side of God I had never experienced before- super new, and super cool.
When I think of day 3, I think of the desert. I think of stopping to cry a lot (again). I think of Kat sign languaging me, "I love you" every 10 minutes. The day before, our guide Jimmy had put Kat and I in the front because we were the slowest, which means everyone, including Thomas, who was on his 19th mountain climb of the year, had to walk behind us.
At one point, I think the group started to speed up because Kat and I's regular pace was like a 95 year-old turtle walking through peanut butter, and I remember Kat saying to the group, "it'd really support me if y'all would stay behind me". And I LOVED that because what a visual glimpse of Spark the Way that was- walking behind young adults as they take on their cancer mountains.
For 4.5 hours, we turtle'd on and eventually made it to our 15,000 mile mark at Lava Tower. This was the highest point in altitude we'd been yet, which was also the altitude of Base Camp, where we stay the night before we summit. This place was me at my worst. The higher up we went, the more nauseated my stomach, the more painful my headache, the less oxygen I had. In our last little stretch to Lava Camp, I found myself bent over my trekking poles hysterically crying for no reason, which inevitably took more of the breath I already didn't have. I kept repeating 3 words to myself that God had given me through a few Bible verses from a previous morning, "Deliverer, Sustainer, Provider"- my fight words.
Well...shoot. I just looked back to the day I got my "fight" words. It's protector, not provider. Which came out of the book of Samuel, who God really did send as my protector here. Neat...
This day, and the physical feelings and emotions it brought along with it sent me right back to the middle of my cancer fight. It was rough. Our guide had one of the porters take Sam and I down a few thousand feet to our next camp stop an hour or two earlier than everyone else. And it was on that trek down that I started really contemplating heading "home".
When I caught myself wondering if I could get off the mountain faster if I rolled by ankle or sliced my leg on a rock, I laughed for a sec, and then remembered a quick conversation I had with my friend Alec before I left about people knowing and accepting when it's time to stop in mountain climbing scenarios. I spent a majority of that 2 hour climb thinking and praying and remembering- remembering that God didn't call me to summit, He called me to coordinate. And I had done that. I coordinated the climb, and anything else that I was strengthened to do beyond that was extra blessing.
That was one of my biggest takeaways from this mountain climb. It made me evaluate the way I'm living back at home- what am I doing that God never actually told me to do? what am I acting on that's only stemmed from a good idea, and not God's calling? It's easy to get caught up in doing many things that are all created with good intention, but without God's calling us to it or ordaining us for it, we're signing ourselves up for stress, weight, or anxiety that we weren't created to carry. We need His help to do all the things, and only the things, He created us to do. I was so careful about where I stepped on the mountain, and that was a mentality I wanted to bring home. Stepping carefully and confidently, knowing God called/ordained it.
All that being said, we made it to camp and I shared with Sam, our guide, and the group that I'd (proudly) be heading back to the hotel the next day. PSA: I genuinely appreciate all of the people who have made an attempt to comfort me, lovingly thinking I'd be sad I didn't make it, but let me tell you... knowing I was going back down was a HUGE load off. Huge. I couldn't have been happier.
Day 3 Journal:
Doesn't exist. I was trying not to die.
We'll just jump straight to the journal entry. This was a day I'd rather try not to relive for blog's sake...
Day 4 Journal:
June 18th was thee most physically difficult day of my life. You know how sometimes things are so tragic you have to laugh? Cue day 4.
The only option our guide Jimmy gave me to get back down to the mountain was to scale the wall to Base Camp at 15,000 feet, and climb over. Actually, that should be a "we". When I told Sam I was heading back down, he opted to go back down with me. He told me that summiting the mountain wasn't his dream, but that I was his dream. And his role there was to protect me, which he couldn't do if I was at the bottom and he was at the top of the mountain. So, WE, demanded option 2, which was a route designed straight from Satan himself.
Sam and I spent 8 hours climbing down muddy, slippery, wet, mossy rocks. I stopped to cry a bunch on that one, too. I was passed the point of malnourished and really was preparing for my body to pass out at any second. That decent felt like it was never going to end, like it was some form of torture. Even now, I close my eyes and see rock and mud and forest. My body was shutting down. Around 2:30, Lawrence, our other guide, calls up his buddy- the local ambulance driver who picks us up, and after a terrifying, human-trafficking feel of a ride through back alleys of mud hut towns to our tour driver, we head (safely) back to the hotel. We've officially been back in this hotel for 24 hours and I want out of this country. bad.
The bonus of last 24 hours was seeing Amy's face when I knocked on her door and she realized she wasn't the only one back at the resort.
The next day, everyone returned safely! Dylan and Kat had been hit by heavy altitude sickness, so didn't technically get to the top, but in my book, basically summited. And the rest trekked up there with our STW sign and held it proudly!!!
What a gift it was to watch other people who have taken on, or are currently taking on, their own cancer mountains climb this one, and fight with the same fight and ammo God gave us in our cancer seasons. In my final day on the mountain, the hope that the ambulance driver gave me as he whipped around the corner was a hope that I pray of bringing to young adults affected by cancer. When I felt like I was barely hanging in there, there he was- when these young adults feel the same hopelessness, Lord, let Spark the Way be there.
Thank you to all of you who supported, encouraged, climb, raised money, and shared about our climb!