The Mountain, The Legends & The Kick-Butt Playlist

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Mount Kilimanjaro stands at 5,895 m or 19,341 ft in the country of Tanzania, located in East Africa. It is the highest mountain in Africa, the fourth highest of the world’s Seven Summits, and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It was made from 3 volcanoes, Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira that had their last major eruption 360,000 years ago.

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40,000 people attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro each year. The youngest person to summit was 7-year-old Keats Boyd in January of 2008 and the oldest person was 85-year-old Robert Wheeler in October of 2014. Even more amazing was Spencer West, the man with NO LEGS who made it to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro by walking on his hands!!!! And quite possibly the most absurd summit, is the record for the highest altitude pizza delivery. This major feat was accomplished just this month, May 2016 by none other than Pizza Hut. Surely I can do this, right?

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I’ll conveniently ignore the statistics of people, including professional athletes who have to turn around before reaching the peak due to altitude sickness. (Gulp!) 40,000 people attempt the climb each year, but 40,000 don’t reach the summit. Your chances of success are highly dependent on the number of days taken for the climb. The more days to allow yourself to acclimatize, the higher your chance of success is. Kilimanjaro National Park requires each climber to register when they begin and end the climb. Their statistics show all climbers on all routes (between 5-10 day climbs) with a mere 45% reaching the summit. Most tour operators praise themselves for having an upwards of 85% success rate. Which one is correct?  I guess only time will tell.

The really scary statistic is the average of 10 climbers that die each year, usually from heart attack, extreme cases of altitude sickness such as HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema) or HAPE (High Altitude Pulminary Edema), falls, and the rare rock slide. Mention this little statistic to my prone to worry mother and you are dead to me.

When I first learned about this, it freaked me out a little but hey, go big or go home. 10 out of 40,000 are relatively safe chances. I’m pretty sure driving in an automobile everyday puts me and my family at greater risk. My team of 30 Compassion Sponsors will be climbing the 6 Day Rongai route (One of the official 6 six routes up) with The African Walking Company. It’s on the Northern Side of the mountain which proves to be drier than the southern/western routes.  Our tour operators are a very reputable and safe company who are well-trained in spotting altitude sickness in climbers and are incredibly versed in how to avoid it or at least minimize it with a slow pace, plenty of fluids and appropriate time to acclimate.

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The first 4 days the hikes will range from 4-7 hours. On summit day, day 5…it will be 10-15 hours…with approximately 6 of it in the dark. We start our final ascent at midnight and hike by headlamp in the hopes of reaching the coveted destination of Uhuru Peak at sunrise. I can’t even imagine how stunningly beautiful that will be. After a brief 15 minutes of glory we will begin our descent for ANOTHER 7-8 HOURS!!!

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I’m not gonna lie, this is the day that is making me nervous. The other days I can tough it out and sleep when we get to camp while everyone else is socializing. I’m thankful that the tours of the Compassion Child Development Center, the Child Survival Program, and the home visits take place before the climb. When I’m dragging and running on empty, I’m going to remind myself of why I’m climbing and about all the people who will be getting clean, safe water at the bottom of that very mountain.  I’m banking on drawing strength from that to get me through. That and a whole lot of prayers and adrenaline (plus pain meds locked and loaded). But you know what? A KICK BUTT PLAYLIST couldn’t hurt!

Here is where I NEED YOUR HELP! I have been relying on streaming music for years. I am one of those people who love many songs but couldn’t tell you the title or artist. Shazam (one of the best inventions ever) and google have saved me tons of embarrassment over the years from having to squeak sing a few words of a song I liked to some poor soul to help me identify it. And now, I have to build a playlist? I am so unequipped.

So give me your FAVORITES! Give me your rev you up, can’t sit still, gets your heart beating double-time, pump your fists, here comes the second wind, ready to conquer the world, Rocky at the top of the stairs songs! It can be from all eras, all genres. I need to fill (and learn how to use) an iPod. What songs would you want with you?

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Bonus is that when I hear your suggested songs, I get to think of you on the mountain and all of your awesomeness distracting me from the grueling work at hand, so you’re there with me in spirit.

Asante Sana!
(Thank you in Swahili)

Voices of Truth & Light-Part II

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I’m pretty sure I understand why the Little Engine That Could kept repeating “I think I can. I think I can.” over and over again. It’s so those voices of doubt in his head wouldn’t have a chance to sneak in. Everyone has those voices within, some are just better at ignoring them than others. Really driven people hear that negative voice telling you that you can’t, and take it as a challenge. “Oh yeah? Watch me!” and then take great pleasure as they smash that voice of doubt into smithereens. They understand that half of the battle is in your head.

That drive and determination is a common personality trait in good athletic trainers. If you ask them what their favorite part of the job is, not surprisingly most will tell you the same thing. It’s that look of excitement and delight on a client’s face when they finally accomplish something they never thought they could do. Personal trainers are some of the best cheerleaders around. Who else other than your own Mother gets that excited for you? And I’m pretty sure she is required by motherhood law to do so. Seriously, when is the last time someone gave you a high-five for accomplishing something past the age of 6? Personal Trainers dole them out happily all the time. Having a cheerleader in your corner is Awesome. Even better is that they swap out your own voices of doubt with their encouragements in its place.

A lot of people have asked me how do you train to climb a mountain? Kilimanjaro isn’t a technical climb meaning it doesn’t require climbing ropes or climbing with an ice pick. There is a little bouldering involved but for the most part it is a very long, very uphill hike over the course of a week or more starting off in a rainforest and ending up on a glacier. The best thing you can do to prepare is to make sure you are physically fit and are able to handle the mileage and exertion consecutive days in a row. So after years of doing yoga at home, I set out to push the bar higher and joined Burn Boot Camp, a phenomenal fitness community practicing High Intensity Interval Training where you can find me hovering in the back 5 days a week.

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I was an athlete growing up, a gym rat in my teens and 20’s but still felt nervous my first camp. Please God, please let me be able to handle this. BBC’s brilliant floating floors are what even make it a possibility for someone like me with Lupus, to handle a class like that. The floor is springy and cushioned and saves so much stress on my joints.

As I looked around the room, I was surrounded with an incredibly diverse bunch of women (and men depending when you go). You had what I like to refer to as the fitness superstars, you know the ones. They are beautifully toned and able to do the entire class while modifying up. The ones you admire and aspire to be. But there were a lot of others too. There were young mothers, lots of women my age, a few teenagers and what I was thrilled to see were women old enough to be Grandmothers shattering any age myths out there. There were all shapes and sizes. There were women sporting knee braces, athletic tape, even one who had an orthopedic boot. What you couldn’t see but I would later find out was there were cancer survivors, mothers of sick and autistic kids, and other women with invisible diseases like me.

And ALL of them, every single one of them, are an inspiration. They along with BBC’s wonderful trainers create a magic component which I didn’t even realize I was missing. Community of like-minded people. It makes my workouts not only more enjoyable, but more effective.

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Watching the woman just starting out on her fitness journey, carrying extra weight, soldier on when she’s exhausted and wants to stop, is incredibly inspiring. You go girl. That is strength. If you can keep going, I can keep going. I was you once not long ago.

Turning to the woman next to you who is also drenched in sweat, exchanging a commiserating look of “Holy Smokes can you believe we are doing this?” is unbelievably reassuring and helps you press on.

The “You’ve got this.” and “Nice work”s exchanged with each other are FUEL.

Watching people transform before your very eyes over time is INCENTIVE.

You’re not doing it alone. You are all pushing forward towards your goals together.

Together, I have gone much farther and accomplished more than I ever have alone. Lets face it, if it was a workout DVD at home, I would have stopped a long time ago.

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Here’s the thing, I wrote this post twice already. The first time was how challenging (read frustrating) it has been to train when your hands, wrists, feet, ankles and shoulder joints always start screaming before your muscles do. And how I fight for my lungs to expand enough to catch my breath when they feel like they are surrounded by fluid. But that just made me feel like a sick person and wah wah wah. C’est la vie. No one wants to read that. I don’t want to read that. I’m still lucky to have the health that I do and I won’t let the rest stop me. So I scrapped that one.

The second time I wrote I went into detail about how effective BBC is. I used to work out 2 hours a day and didn’t get the same results as I do now in just 45 minutes. But you know what? Burn Bootcamp’s site is FULL of transformation stories with impressive before and after photos of HUNDREDS of their clients with remarkable stats. The walls of their facilities are plastered with them. I don’t need to rewrite what so many others have already written. Go check it out for yourself, just know that everything they say is true. I’ve met these women, they work out beside me.

The most magical part of BBC’s community is their heart. I was only there about a month before they held a fundraiser partnering with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Every year Devan Kline, the founder of BBC helps raise money to send kids with MD to summer camp. He also makes a very generous donation himself. How can you not automatically love a guy who leverages himself to make the world a better place? He had me at “They have special floating wheelchairs that allow the kids to go in the water, so they can have a summer camp experience like other healthy kids do.”
Gah! Take my money.
I would quickly learn that this was just one of many charities and causes they support and encourage their clients to as well.

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They love their people, and they love their community.

Each of my trainers has their own, endearing personality. Devan, BBC’s owner, who I initially, affectionately referred to as “Beefcake” (What? The guy is seriously ripped.), always asks you

What’s your goal? You’ve got to have a goal.”

For the first couple of months I was there, I would always answer him with a
“To NOT DIE!”. Of course he was looking for an answer like number of reps or a period of time and judging by the look on his face, he didn’t find me nearly as amusing as I did.
Devan knows a thing or two about surpassing goals. BBC is experiencing explosive growth for good reason with 21 locations and another 39 opening soon. He helps keep you on track. That is no easy feat to do in a room full of chatty women with ADD combined with horrendous short-term memory. He coaches you that your best strategy is to have a plan and to have laser focus, in and out of camp. The lifestyle he models extends well beyond those walls. He genuinely cares if you reach your goals. Your success is his success. From some of the things he’s said and written, he’s intimated there is an interesting background story to his life. I have a feeling he’s had some practice overcoming obstacles.

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Kyle Lane, or “Killer Kyle” speaks my love language; Humor. He has so many what we like to call “Kyleisms” that keeps you laughing while you simultaneously push well beyond what you thought your capabilities were.
I’m not worried about you passing out, the hospital’s down the street.”
What are you waiting for?”
And my personal favorite “My lunchbox weighs more than that!” And for the record-it does.
Every client is Kyle’s favorite client and it doesn’t matter if you avoid eye contact, he WILL find you to drop a smash ball in your lap or suit you up with a weighted vest. The first time he told me to take a finger away while doing pull ups I looked at him like he had three heads.

What?!”
“Just do it, take that last finger away.”

And lo and behold I could do a pull up with only 3 fingers from each hand. The look on my face at that moment is what trainers live for. Kyle taught me not to wait until I thought I was ready to try something harder. You’d be surprised how many times you’re able to do something before you think you are.

“All Day Ashley” Beasley is my hero. The woman can do one-handed pull ups. One hand! While I love the guys it is so inspiring to have that level of fitness and strength modeled for you by a female. I not only take her camps that she trains, but have been in camps with her and witnessed firsthand her extraordinary athletic prowess. The first time I saw Ashley walk in and start setting up a camp I couldn’t help but stare. She is incredibly cut and defined with beautiful tan skin that just exemplifies her hard work and she is gorgeous to boot. I had to catch myself, because I was so entranced studying her muscle definition it took me a minute before I realized I was staring and being a creeper. I’m sure she gets that all. the. time. (Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself so I don’t feel like a creeper.) She is as sweet and funny as she is fit but I soon learned that doesn’t make her workouts any easier! Ashley is teaching me endurance. Every time I think I am absolutely done (and there are many), she throws in one more round. That voice always pops in my head and says “There is no way, I’ve got nothing left.”, yet she encourages you to try anyways, and somehow, with her next to you, coaching you on “One more, c’mon I know you can do one more!” You do. There must be some reserve tank within that only she can see that the rest of us can’t.

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It is so very important to be surrounded by those positive voices speaking truth and light into you. Because sometimes that voice in your head is just a whisper, and other times it screams loud. We all battle these voices every day. If you don’t have people in your life that do this for you, you need to go get you some stat!

I’ve had a lot of internal monologues happening since we signed up for the Cause Trek with Compassion. Two particular recurrent voices of doubt and fear have been resurfacing for months.

You won’t raise all the money you’ve pledged for clean water.

and

You won’t make it to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

My team consists of 30 Compassion Sponsors from across the US coming together to fund this clean water project and attempting the climb. Will you please pray for my team? I’m sure I’m not the only one hearing these voices of doubt. Please pray we are all able to secure the donations necessary so we can help those in need. Pray we will all physically be able to reach the summit together. Because together we can accomplish so much more than we can alone.

I’ve already shared how I’ve learned to turn to God for everything first and foremost. That is key. I’ve also learned that it is imperative to be surrounded by positive voices speaking truth and light into you.

Devan, Kyle and Ashley are a few of my voices of truth and light. I am so incredibly grateful for them. I’ve tenderly tucked them away in my mind and will be listening for them when needed.

What’s your goal?”
To raise $9,000 for Clean Water and to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro despite my obstacles! “Get it Holly!

What are you waiting for?”
I’m able to do more than I think I can. Just catching my breath, the hospital isn’t down the street this time you know!

and when I don’t think I can take another step…
One more, C’mon give me one more!
Thanks for introducing me to my reserve tank.

Together, along with an army of extraordinary men and women, I bleed blue. We love each other and we love our community. #StrongerEveryDay

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(Learn more about Burn Boot Camp at burnbootcamp.com.
Devan & Ashley are at BBC Headquarters in Huntersville and you can find Kyle at the Charlotte/Elizabeth location. However, I’ve had the privilege of having most of the trainers from other locations train at Headquarters and I can honestly say they are ALL phenomenal, so go seek out your own voices of truth and light.)

Voices of Truth & Light – Part I

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My perspective on life and faith was eternally changed while listening to a radio interview with Gracia Burnham years ago. Gracia is the extraordinary individual who is best known for being the hostage who was rescued from the Abu Sayyaf Muslim militant group back in 2002. Gracia and her husband, Martin were missionaries who lived and worked with their 3 young children in the Philippines. Martin was a jungle pilot for a missionary aviation program that delivered mail, supplies, and medical patients. Gracia served in various roles of support for the organization plus homeschooled their children. While celebrating their anniversary at a resort in Palawan in May of 2001, they along with more than a dozen others were taken hostage by the radical Muslim group who were known for beheading their victims.

For over a year they were prisoners constantly on the run with the militant group through the primitive jungle of Basilan Island. Many days they did not have any food or water. They grew weak, they were mistreated, they watched in horror as fellow hostages were brutally murdered, they didn’t know if they would ever see their children again. They had every reason to doubt God because of their circumstances. They were tested physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Instead of turning against God, they leaned into Him.

They constantly prayed and asked God for everything they needed. When they needed water, they would pray for a drink of water. When they needed food, they prayed for food. Sometimes their prayers were answered, sometimes they weren’t. They prayed that God would let one of them come home to raise their kids. They prayed that they would be set free.

While she was recalling one point where they were incredibly weak, sleep deprived, homesick and scared she said they started to question God. Why would He let this happen? Why wasn’t He answering their prayers? Why them after all they’ve done in His name? They started to question everything.

But then they did something amazing and her iron clad faith hit me like a brick.

Grappling with their doubt, searching for answers, they said
“What do we know to be true? We know the bible to be true. God Loves us. God is always with us. God’s promises are true.”

They named off everything they could remember in their weary state of God’s truths and it consoled and comforted them.

There in the wild, dangerous jungle, where they didn’t know if they would die from something in the jungle, from one of their captors, or from starvation, after they were taken hostage from doing God’s work, while malnourished and dehydrated, they thanked God for his promises and His word.

They remained thankful.

I was just stunned.

You know how when you are in a bad situation and you can always still find something to be thankful for, knowing there are so many others out there in worse situations than you? I’m pretty sure they were in a situation as bad as it gets. There was no downward comparison to be had. Yet they demonstrated rock solid faith. They demonstrated that even if everything is stripped away, there is still much to be thankful for.

I prayed at that moment for God to please let me have a faith as strong as theirs that I could remain thankful no matter what the circumstances.

The story gets even more astonishing.

In June of 2002, another rescue attempt was made from the Philippine military. This time Gracia was shot in the leg at the onset. She fell and slid down the hill they were descending. Once she stopped, she ended up near her husband Martin, who she could see was shot in the chest. His breathing was heavy and labored. There on that hill, as the shots of their rescue attempt continued to ring out, she watched Martin take his last breath.

Her rescuers found Gracia and Martin and started dragging them up the hill. As she watched her husband’s lifeless body she said. “ God had answered our prayers. We were free. I was being rescued and would be able to return home and Martin had been called home. We were both free, just in different ways.”

At this point listening, I was crying and MAD. Are you kidding me?! That poor man who after serving as a missionary his entire life, surviving a year of captivity in deplorable conditions and he DIES DURING THE RESCUE?!?! He was SO CLOSE! Their children were so close to seeing their Father again! How could she be grateful and say their prayers were answered?! I was going to be mad for her even if she was not! That was not how I wanted to the story to end!

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Turns out that’s not how the story ends. As if this story couldn’t get any more exceptional, it does and continues on in extraordinary ways because that is how our God works.

This woman had already stunned me twice with the magnitute of her faith and was about to once more. You see, Gracia prayed to God for forgiveness towards her captors. Not only did she forgive them but she started the Martin and Gracia Burnham Foundation to help reach Muslims in the Philippines. She forgave them, prayed for them and reached out trying to save them.

I was flabbergasted. This woman had so much taken from her and here she was serving those same people with love and concern.

A few of the men that held Gracia and her husband hostage for that year, got a hold of some of the printed material from her foundation. They knew they had taken a year of her life and that her husband had died because of their actions. What they read moved them and they were impacted by Gracia’s faith.

It changed them. It changed them so much that 4 of her captors became Christians.

Gracia eventually met the men and greeted them with hugs. Hugs! Talk about a poster child of unshakable faith, forgiveness and grace. I had found my role model.

There were people in my life I hadn’t forgiven for far, far less offenses. So I prayed again….God please let me practice grace and forgiveness like her!

Life inevitably leaves us questioning our state of affairs from time to time. It can be hard to comprehend the truth in all of the muddiness. Maybe it’s emotion that is clouding clarity or the noise of our culture. It’s easy to recognize that life isn’t always fair but it’s not always easy to discern the truth.

Gracia taught me that in those times of confusion, hurt, abandonment, disappointment, etc. to look for comfort and guidance in the Voice of Truth and Light. To remind myself of what I know to be TRUE. And that there is still ALWAYS much to be thankful for even if the current state of affairs doesn’t match my idea of desirable.

I know I was meant to hear that interview. I had no idea that when I got into the car that day it would forever change me. Even though I had believed in God my entire life, at that time my faith was still immature. I used to try to figure things out on my own, with my limited logic and reasoning. I’ve come a long way since then and have learned that the first place I should be looking is to our omniscient, omnipotent, loving God in ALL matters. This has served me well. I’ve faced plenty of challenges since then and I’m sure my outlook would be drastically different had I not matured in my faith or heard that interview.

The departure day for our Kilimanjaro Cause Trek is drawing near. Needless to say I’ve got plenty of voices good and bad swirling in my head. Our trip leaders have warned us that you’ve got to prepare mentally and spiritually before a trip like this just as much as you do physically. Thanks to Gracia, I know the very first voice of truth and light that I need to seek out.

 

The People Who Shape You – Indomitable Spirits

 

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I have a sister 5 years my senior who is and always has been GORGEOUS. After a bajillion people tell you that you should model, you start to give it serious thought. It took some pleading with my Mom to enroll her in a modeling agency and get head shots, but she was soon on her way to gracing local department store ads and covers of record albums with her beautiful self.

Here’s where this worked to an unbelievable advantage for me…my Mom has always been a staunch believer of treating her kids equally. If she spent x amount of dollars on one kid, she felt the need to do the same for the other. Lucky for me, modeling isn’t an inexpensive endeavor. Growing up in Western New York provides you with incredible skiing close by. Our town’s recreation department offered Ski School at Kissing Bridge Ski Resort on Tuesdays for kids in 4th-12th grade. Skiing was something the rich kids did. We were not rich (Side note: To give you some perspective, when I was a kid I thought people who had dishwashers, refrigerators with built in ice makers, or pools were rich.) So when my Mom asked me if I would be interested in learning how to ski, I jumped at the chance.

Now where my sister only modeled for a few years, I ended up falling in love with skiing and attended the full 9 years of ski school, so I definitely made out better on the deal. However, skiing at Kissing Bridge would have a life long impact on me because of one man whom I’ve never even met. I don’t know his name. We never spoke. To be honest I have never even seen his face, but this stranger’s influence on me was so profound it has helped shape who I am today.

Somewhere around the Junior High school years, my friends and I were riding the chairlift up for another run. Our lessons were over and we were in our “free skiing time” enjoying goofing off, trying new things and being loud and obnoxious as Junior High Schools girls often are. Anyone who skies knows that you only ski the runs under the chair lift if you are decently good. Otherwise your colossal wipe outs are entertainment for all those above you to see, who have nothing else better to do but to watch the skiers below while trying to stay warm and look for cute boys. Ok that last part may have only been my friends and me but whatever.

I will never forget the first time that I saw him. He caught my attention from a good distance away due to his gracefulness. His turns were clean and his cadence steady. His run looked effortless. He was so good that at first I thought he was part of the resort’s Ski Patrol, but he wasn’t wearing the right colors. I intently studied his movements trying to glean tips so I could improve on my own technique. And then I saw it. My eyes widened in amazement as he got closer and my brain deciphered if what I saw was actually true.

This man only had one leg. ONE LEG! He put the rest of the skiers on the hill to shame with his skill and he only had one ski!!! All four of us strained to turn around in our lift chair so we could continue watching him as he passed us down the slope, out skiing everyone I knew. How was he doing that?!

For the remainder of the ride up we excitedly rambled on with an impressed array about what a marvel this man was and statements like “Oh my gosh can you imagine how HARD that is?” and “I can’t ski like that and I have 2 skis!”. We all decided we were going to try it.

This is the stuff America’s Funniest Home Videos are made of. We started off our new challenge by simply bending at the knee on one leg, and attempting to hold the ski off the ground. We quickly learned that balancing that way was near impossible. It would only take a few feet before we would crash and burn. Over and over. Or, it was too easy to cheat and you would instinctively put your ski back down in order to regain balance.

We theorized that by holding up one ski, it was weighting us down on that side and throwing off our center of balance. Therefore, logically, we had to get rid of the ski altogether to solve our problem. So how were we going to do that? In a moment of junior high brilliance, we each proceeded to take off one ski and THREW IT DOWN THE HILL. (Disclaimer: Mom if you are reading this I swear this was back when we rented skis and not after you bought me my own beautiful set of skis for Christmas that one year that I loved and cherished and rubbed with a polishing cloth weekly and never ever for one second would dream of abusing.)

Dear Lord was that a disaster! It was wipe out after wipe out. Mass casualties were strewn across the hill as far as the eye could see. We were a bruised, snow covered bunch by the time we pummeled ourselves to the bottom and it was a miracle one of us didn’t break a leg. Our epic failure made us admire the gifted skier even more.

This man made such an impression on me. I thought about him. A lot. I wondered if he only had one leg when he first learned how to ski. Or did he lose a leg and have to relearn how to ski all over again? Either way I knew it couldn’t have been easy and must have required a lot of drive and determination riddled with frustration along the way. I can’t even imagine how many times he fell trying to learn. This gentleman not only learned it, he mastered it! I recognized that his success was a choice on his part. I didn’t view him as an amputee to feel sorry for, I saw him as larger than life. He was an inspiration! I decided right then and there, if anything ever happened to me I wanted to BE. LIKE. THAT. I wanted to be like this man with an indomitable spirit and not let anything stop me.

I continued to spot him sporadically throughout the years and always smiled as I admired his impeccable technique and rhythm as he artfully made his way down the slope. I thought about him many times with great admiration and fondness. He became like an unaware mentor to me.

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A long time had passed since I last thought about my unknown skier friend. I was now dealing with my own health challenges. As my Lupus symptoms increased in severity, my activities decreased proportionally. I had already learned that one of my favorite pastimes, mountain biking, was too jagged and hard on my joints. All the weight on my hands gripping the handlebars would cause me to stop and shake them out frequently during the ride due to the pain or just plain going numb. I could still bike, but I was going to pay for it dearly for days following. One day of fun = five days of knock me on my butt pain and fatigue. Same thing went for jet skiing, I could go for an easy pleasure cruise, but no hard riding and wave jumping like I loved.

I had taken up yoga to ease joint pain and maintain flexibility which helped, but I knew I had lost a lot of muscle. I had big dreams, how could I climb a mountain in my current state? How could I rebuild muscle when every activity made the pain worse? In one moment of frustration, for some reason that indomitable spirit came to mind. Here this guy was missing an entire limb and he didn’t let that stop him. Why did I assume all these years that he skied without pain or sacrifice? On the contrary, he probably skied despite the pain. How much harder did he have to work and how much stronger did he have to be to do what he wanted compared to the rest of us? It was a choice.

I had a choice. I could wall myself off from the world and any new experience which may exacerbate my symptoms or I could say “Screw you Lupus, I’m not going to let you stop me from accomplishing what I want to accomplish.” I was going to experience pain either way right? That was part of my new everyday normal. If I was going to be sore and achy, I might as well be as healthy as I could be, fully experience life and be sore and achy.

I actually laughed out loud and echoed my 13 year old self and said “I want to BE. LIKE. THAT.” I had a lot of work to do, I had made my choice.

You never know who is watching you. You have the ability to influence and inspire without even saying a word.  How POWERFUL is that?

*With eternal gratitude to an unnamed, ski-masked inspiration and indomitable spirit. I wish I could properly thank you for shaping me.*

Your Gifts Aren’t Good Enough

 

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If you looked around our house 8 years ago we were basically one big hand me down/garage sale find. Our couch and chair were hand me downs from my mom that were of drinking age. An uncle passed down our bed frame that used to house a waterbed, which should give you an indication of the era it was from. Our garage sale kitchen table (which was the only table we owned) sported a mere three chairs around it. When my Mom was joining us for dinner we would pull out an old, metal, school house chair that was about 6″ shorter than the others. It made you feel like you were 5 years old again attempting to eat at a table that was chest height. We lovingly referred to it as our “guest of honor” chair. Needless to say House Beautiful magazine wasn’t knocking on our door for a photo shoot.

About that time our church was starting up new life groups and were looking for people to host. Of course we couldn’t host. I’d been to other people’s houses, they were gorgeous! They were beautifully furnished with items that matched. Their furniture was comfortable and plush. They had the ability to host dinner parties for 20 people or more in their spacious, artfully decorated homes. They were so much better equipped than we were.

So we waited. Time passed and they still needed more people to offer up their homes.

The book of Acts talks about the early church and how it grew because of excited, new believers meeting to learn about Jesus. They met in people’s homes, they met near the market, they gathered anywhere and everywhere for the chance to learn more about Jesus, the man who changed history for all of mankind. Somehow I doubt they were thinking “No we can’t meet here to learn about the MOST IMPORTANT thing we’ll ever learn. My couch doesn’t have any support left to it.”

Christians believe that all good things come from God. Our homes, our jobs, and our belongings are all blessings. It quickly dawned on me that my line of thinking was basically telling God that the gifts He has given me, weren’t good enough.

Can you imagine speaking to Jesus face to face and saying that?!

Jesus: My dearest daughter, beloved child whom I suffered and died for, will you use the home I have gifted to you so others may learn about me and grow in their faith?

Me: Welllllll, you see Jesus, I was thinking about it. I know that I have all that I’ll ever need and am richer than 95% of the people in the entire world, living here in the United States with a home and 2 cars and all…but the stuff you gave me…it’s not good enough.

Jesus: Not good enough?

Me: Yeah, maybe once you bless me with newer, better stuff I can use it for you.

Blink. Blink.

I sent the email that day that the Reinhardts could host a life group.

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Since then a lot has changed. We finally purchased a couch and chair that we ourselves chose from a store. A table with 6 chairs now lives in our dining room and we’ve had the privilege of having friends over for dinner without using our “Guest of Honor” chair. A good friend remodeled our fireplace and our floors and kitchen received a facelift compliments of a water main break last year. And we still host life group.

After the remodel work was done I was looking around admiring how far our little home has come. I chuckled as I remembered the epiphany that brought us to host life group in the first place.

And then I realized I had done it again.

This time it had nothing to do with my worldly possessions, but with my health, time and energy. I had inadvertently told God that His gifts were not good enough.

Before my Lupus diagnosis I was working at our church heading up local missions projects. Some were small, easily orchestrated collection projects for local charities and some were large, church wide serve days that involved months of preparation and long hours the day of. And I LOVED it. To me, watching people come together to be the hands and feet of God to serve others is Christianity at it’s finest. Nothing brought me more joy and satisfaction. But as my Lupus symptoms progressed in intensity, it increasingly robbed me of energy. I was barely able to run my household. Now if I had the choice between cooking and cleaning my house or mission work project planning, I would choose the project planning every. single. time. Problem was there wasn’t anyone cooking or cleaning my house for me. I had reached the point where I needed to step down. Lupus, like many other diseases is cruel and doesn’t discriminate what it robs you of, no matter it’s importance or your affinity for it.

I tried to make peace with yet another “new normal.” I still volunteered in the Children’s Ministry on Sundays and at the food pantry but I felt restless.

I’ll let you in on a little secret; when you experience restlessness, that’s usually an indication that some God-given talent and drive within you is not being utilized or expressed to its full potential.

God created me to serve and I needed to find a new outlet to do it. I couldn’t sit idle and tell Jesus that the gift of my health, no matter what state I was in wasn’t “good enough” to be used by Him for Him. Though I might not be able to do what I used to, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t do something different or in a different way.

What could I do, right now, where I was, with what I had?

As humans we naturally resist change. Even if the change turns out to be for the better, we have a tendency to initially buck it. We get caught in familiar routines that we repeat over and over believing we’ve perfected the most efficient way, or the only way to do them.  We start to loose our ingenuity and creativity for tackling tasks differently or reevaluating our methods and strategies for improvement from time to time.  I initially get discouraged when my abilities are hindered or halted due to my illness, but if there is one thing life has taught me, it is to be FLEXIBLE. Flexible with my plans, flexible with my thinking, flexible to let God work through me even when it doesn’t look like I had imagined or planned.

It was time for some creative brainstorming on new ways to serve.  It was time to be flexible with what that could look like.

Sometimes, it looks like dirty water and a 19,000 ft. Mountain.

What are you restless about?  Get creative…and be flexible!

 

 

When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Saved The Day (For Real)

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Back in my New York days, I was an EMT. Interning in different hospital emergency rooms prior to your certification is a requirement of training. On one of my assigned hospital shifts that serviced the inner city region, EMTs rushed in a 5 year old little boy suffering from a gun shot wound straight through his left hand. Let’s call him Chris. Chris was at a friend’s house where the boys were playing when they came across the homeowner’s gun. I don’t know the specifics, but essentially the friend raised the gun to “play shoot” him, the little boy raised his hand to say stop, and the loaded gun fired. Luckily for Chris, his hand is the only thing the bullet found.

Since he was at a friend’s house, his parents hadn’t been located and notified yet. So as the emergency room crew rushed to start work on Chris’ hand, the most helpful thing I could do was talk to Chris and try to calm him down. As you can imagine, parentless, scared, 5 year old gun shot victims in pain don’t like to hold still for doctors and nurses. As I held his good hand on the right, I asked him what his name was, where he went to school and a myriad of other small talk questions, but it wasn’t doing the job to sufficiently distract him from the doctors trying to work on his left. Chris was already hyperventilating as it was, and every time he would see the needle heading for his hand, he would freak out more and pull his arm away. If you didn’t know, 5 year old little boys who are hopped up on adrenaline are REALLY STRONG.

As I frantically searched my brain for material that could possibly be captivating to a 5 year old, I remembered the movie I had just seen the weekend before. In fact I remember rolling my eyes to my boyfriend as I agreed to the movie selection. It was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (we’re talking the original one here folks, circa 1990). I remember thinking what a waste of brain space, time and money. It turned out to be more entertaining than I had anticipated but I was still embarrassed to admit I went to see it.

“Chris, did you see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie?” It was as if a switch flipped. He turned his head away from his injured hand towards me, his eyes took on a completely different kind of excitement and he answered with a resounding “YEAH!”

“Which one was your favorite turtle? I liked Donatello the best.” And that was it. For the next hour Chris held my hand and we excitedly chatted about pizza obsessed turtles who practiced ninja moves with a rat sensei while the doctors attempted to reassemble his mangled palm. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

I was able to find a point of connection with him until his parents arrived to take over. Guys, I was pre-med. I cannot tell you the endless hours of studying calculus, chemistry, and physics that I thought would be so important that I haven’t used one iota in my lifetime. I would have never guessed that my knowledge of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would prove to be so valuable. I want you to remember that the next time you are having a conversation with someone about a topic that you think is ridiculous or boring. There is no such thing as useless information! You never know when you can pull that tidbit of information out to save the day!

Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”, is our sponsor child from Compassion. He is exactly 2 days younger than Zach, which was how we selected him back in 2012 when he was 11. That makes him 15 years old now and in the 9th grade. We were looking for a child close in age to our own, and I’m not gonna lie, who we thought would make an ideal pen pal. He lives with his mother on the plains of Chamwino near Dodoma, Tanzania. That is an 8 hour drive from Kilimanjaro National Park.

The homes there are typically made of clay walls, tin roofs and dirt floors. The primary language is Chigogo. I have no idea how to speak Chigogo! I didn’t even know such a language existed prior to Emmanuel. I can barely speak Spanish and I took 5 years of it in school.

We get the privilege of meeting Emmanuel on our Cause Trek while we are working at the Compassion Assisted Child Development Center near Kilimanjaro. They will be sending him on that 8 hour drive to meet us with a translator. I have no idea how he feels about that. Is he excited? Is he terrified? Most likely he has never been that far from home. I don’t even know if he has ever ridden in a vehicle before. (Note to self: ask these questions next letter.) I wish we were able to meet him at his home so he would be more comfortable. I wish we would be able to meet his mother.

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I’m not sure yet how much time we’ll get together. We’ve been praying over this child for years now. We just received an updated picture this month and I was thrilled to see him taller and looking more like a young man opposed to a child, although still not smiling. I’ve been told that its normal NOT to smile for pictures there. How great it will be to see this kid smile and get a picture of it!  And to be able to hug him!

Then I thought about immediately after that initial exciting moment and a slight twinge of panic set in. What would I say? What would we talk about? I really want him to connect with us, to feel at ease and to have a special bonding moment but what could I possibly find as a point of connection when our lives are sooooo radically different? I’m pretty sure the TMNT aren’t going to work this time.

I’m just going to pray about it and hope that God guides me just like he did with a nonsensical movie about turtles fighting crime.

I have a feeling I will learn a lot from Emmanuel. Even though I don’t speak Chigogo.

To sponsor a child through Compassion go to compassion.com

Explain It Away Syndrome

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Explain it Away Syndrome (Dictionary according to Holly)

[ik-spleyn it uh-wey sin-drohm]
noun
1.  A condition which the patient has the ability to take any physical discomfort or irregularity and dismiss it with a seemingly logical, harmless explanation.

2.  A characteristic, or set of characteristics indicating the existence of a condition, problem, etc that are indicative of a particular disease or disorder that are ignored due to the patient’s inattentiveness, stubbornness, ignorance or just plain, flat out stupidity.

Synonyms
Inattentive, Negligent

Antonyms
Hypochondriac

In 2010 I had a Facebook epiphany. I realized while updating my profile that all the notable accomplishments in my life were from the distant past. So I did what any other sane person does when they start going through the “What am I doing with my life?” crisis and signed up for my first triathlon. I know, most people do 5K’s or 10K’s. The really crazy ones participate in races that require the word “marathon” in them. I’m pretty sure it’s the equivalent of a midlife crisis for when you can’t afford a fancy sports car. We decide we need to run for some reason. (Boy if that isn’t ever a manifestation for some deep seated psychological issue, I don’t know what is.)

But I hated running. Loathed it actually. My twisted logic rationalized that adding swimming and biking to a running event would make it more bearable. Instead of hating the whole thing, I would only dread 1/3 of it. Mathematically that makes perfect sense right? Triathlons are the sport of choice for people with ADD you know.

Subconsciously I believe I was trying to punish my body. Jeremiah and I were trying to have a baby for 2 1/2 years at that point. The only thing we had been successful at was a couple of miscarriages and a whole lot of heartache. We had been to the fertility clinic, I checked out Ok, Jeremiah checked out Ok, so there was no good reason why we weren’t already gushing over an adorable baby of our own. I explained it away as something wasn’t right chromosomal wise and it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t God’s timing, yada yada yada. I was MAD at my body for not cooperating. I was going to exert some kind of control over it whether it liked it or not and making it learn to run seemed like worthy punishment.

Besides, my weight had been creeping up slowly for some time now, even though my diet and exercise hadn’t changed. I explained it away as a slowing metabolism, so it would do me some good to up my exercise regimen.

Training began. I have been biking my entire life so that would be my strongest leg of the race. I’m a decent swimmer but had to wait for our neighborhood pool to open for the summer to build my endurance. Running however…seriously did I mention how much I hate running? I had a lot of work to do.

I regularly walked our dog throughout our neighborhood on a 5 mile loop multiple times a week. Covering the distance was not a problem. Covering the distance while attempting to run WAS a problem. I was slow and lumbered along awkwardly. I could speed walk past myself trying to run. I remember getting really annoyed at my dog pulling at the leash, looking over her shoulder at me as if to condescendingly say “Seriously, is that the best you can do?” It was hard. It seemed harder than everyone said learning to run would be. It was taking me longer to hit certain benchmarks than all my research said was normal. I explained it away as I was just not a natural runner.

The training was just straight BEATING. ME. UP. I would be wiped out afterwards. I was starting to take naps in order to function for the rest of the day. I was embarrassed that I was napping so I didn’t tell Jeremiah or anybody else for that matter. My legs would actually start to tingle from fatigue and I would need to sit down. I expected some tiredness initially but months into it I just kept getting worse. I explained it away as I was getting older and not able to perform athletically like I used to do. I felt old, defeated, and frustrated so you know how I would counter that? I would push myself harder the next day.

Stupid body. I was no quitter, I was not going to give up.

The mornings were the worst. I would wake up with my joints screaming. If I had slept on my side, it felt like my shoulders were crushing in on me from their weight. Gingerly straightening myself to sit up would make me wince, the pain from my feet first hitting the floor would cause me to catch my breath. The bones in my feet splaying out for the first time each day were agonizing. My first steps were so unsteady I looked like a foal learning how to walk as my ankles fought for strength to support myself.

I knew my body would eventually decline as I got older, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon. I resembled people in the retirement homes when they tried to move, not that of a healthy 30 something year old. I explained it away as the beginnings of arthritis from aging and that the training was amplifying it.

And then there were my hands. My hands just refused to work, they wouldn’t have the strength to grip or grab things. I have lever style handles everywhere in my house except for the inside of my bathroom. I wasn’t able to grip the doorknob to let myself out in the mornings. I was literally STUCK IN MY BATHROOM! Now that’s pretty funny. I laughed at that one. Zach knew not to give me school papers to sign in the mornings because I couldn’t grip a pen (and didn’t want his teachers thinking I was drunk when I signed them). I had been dealing with what I called “wimpy hands” and “dropsy” for years. I explained it away as I must be sleeping on my arms causing them to fall asleep and must need to build up my hand strength.

The pain I was getting in my chest when I took deep breaths in? Must be a pulled muscle.

The increasing brain fog and inability to concentrate at work? I must be bored and unchallenged in my position.

My fingers, toes and nose turning ice cold to the point where they turn white and go numb at the slightest temperature drop? I must have given myself frostbite when I skied in my youth.

The sharp pain from my abdomen that woke me from my sleep? Who knows, but it eventually went away. (Yes, I ignore the warning lights in my vehicle if they go off eventually too. So shoot me.)

Friends, you were fearfully and wonderfully made by our omniscient creator. Our bodies are fascinating and complex right down to the cellular level. They are so intelligently designed that when something is wrong, they for the most part start to give us some WARNING SIGNS.

But you have to pay attention.

Don’t get so busy in your lives that you don’t even notice when those warning signs go off. Don’t be stubborn and think you are invincible and that nothing will ever happen to you. And for goodness sake when the thought finally does enter your mind that something could be wrong, love yourself enough to go check it out right away!

I am by no means encouraging you to become hypochondriacs. If it’s one freak occurrence, it’s probably nothing. But every once in a while, take a moment, step back and check in with yourself. This also goes for your physical, spiritual and emotional well being. You should regularly “check in” for your relationships, your career, and anything else that is of importance to you. Your body isn’t the only thing that sends out warning signs.

If I was just experiencing one or two things that seemed logical to dismiss, I can understand having explain it away syndrome. However, everything put together should have clued me in that something was wrong and to go get checked out. I had no idea what lay just around the corner for me. I had no idea I was a ticking time bomb.

Sometimes, it really is nothing. Sometimes it is.

Take the time to notice and take care of yourselves.

ABC’s of Assessment

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Anyone who has ever taken a First Aid Course has learned that when you come across a person in need of medical assistance, you perform an initial evaluation. The medical field gave it the cute mnemonic, the “ABC’s of assessment”. A is for airway, B is for breathing, and C is for circulation. These three priorities are imperative for a patient to survive. Each component needs to be addressed, in that exact order, for the next one to be effective.

783 million people do not have access to clean and safe water. That is 1 in 9 people world wide.”-World Health Organization/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program for Water Supply and Sanitation.

When first responders arrive at an emergency scene and are outnumbered by the amount of patients involved, they perform something called triage. Triage is the process of sorting patients to determine the order of treatment based on the severity of their medical condition. A very rudimentary breakdown of the process can be viewed as 3 separate categories of patients. People who are most likely to live, no matter what treatment they receive, people who are likely to die, no matter what treatment they receive, and people who would receive the most benefit from treatment, possibly making the difference between life and death.

“Waterborne diseases, carried by unsafe water, have killed more people than all wars and other diseases combined.”-Living Water, International.

I’ve been asked “Why Water?” Why not raise funds for Lupus since that is what affects me or why not help fund cancer research since that is what took my Dad, aunts, cousins and numerous friends? I mean, water security issues aren’t even an issue for us.

“Water-related diseases cause 2.2 million deaths a year; every day, diarrhea takes the lives of 2,000 children in Africa—more than any other single cause of death. Safe water, a toilet, and clean hands could prevent 90% of these deaths.”-Living Water, International.

We’ve donated to the Cancer Society, have sponsored friends for cancer fundraisers and will continue to do so. Cancer not only devastates the lives of those diagnosed but for their families and friends as well. I’ve witnessed the evils of my father undergoing chemotherapy and succumbing to the horrendous disease within one year when I was a teenager. It sucks and I want it GONE.

The water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society (as a measure of devastation).”-World Economic Forum, January 2015.

Lupus, although not fun is not a universally fatal disease. Majority of patients who work closely with their doctor, adhere to treatments, and maintain a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise have very good chances of surviving. 80-90% of people with lupus can expect to live a normal life span when detected early enough and acted upon. It does vary in intensity and degree and my heart breaks for those who experience severe symptoms, even more so for those who lose their lives to it. Fortunately, that is a low percentage of those diagnosed. Though there is no cure, there is a big difference in living an altered life due to a disease as opposed to dying from it.

Nearly 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease.-WHO/UNICEF. “Why children are still dying and what can be done.”

There are so many worthy charities out there and for that I am grateful. But where do you start? Where should your efforts go when you don’t feel like you can even make a dent in any one issue? Many people have a tendency to freeze at this point. You feel overwhelmed and the situation feels useless, so instead of making a decision to move in any one direction, you don’t make any decision at all.

“Women and children spend 125 million hours each day collecting water. This time is spent not working, caring for family members or attending school.” World Health Organization and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP). (2015)

So what happens when an overwhelming desire to help is surrounded by overwhelming need?
You assess. You triage.
Then you go to where you can make the biggest impact.

“Universal access to safe water and sanitation would result in $18.5 billion in economic benefits each year from deaths avoided alone.”-World Health Organization. (2012). Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage.

Water is not only vital for health issues, but for hunger, education, poverty, and for the economy. Just like the ABC’s of assessment, each component needs to be addressed, in that order, for the next one to be effective.

443 million school days are lost each year due to water-related diseases.”-United Nations Development Program. “Human Development Report

Safe water and improved sanitation causes the standard of health to skyrocket faster than anything else. ⇒Access to water leads to food security.  Food is finally able to be grown, hunger is reduced. ⇒Time lost to sickness and gathering water is reduced and children return to class, stay in school and get an education. ⇒Educated people have a better chance of lifting themselves out of poverty. ⇒Self-sufficient households are less affected by conflict, famine or inadequate government services and contribute to the economy.

According to the World Health Organization, for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, there is an economic return of between $3 and $34!

It’s a positive domino effect, but you have to start with that first, critical piece.  Otherwise the effort you make on the next component won’t be effective.

You guys, about 2,200 children died yesterday due to lack of clean water.  Another 2,2oo will die today.  Another 2,200 tomorrow.  The thought of that makes me frantic.  We can’t raise our funds fast enough.

I’ve been acutely aware of my water usage lately. We always try to be conscious of it and conserve but it’s just sooo easy to take something as simple as water at the touch of a faucet for granted when you’ve had access to it your whole life. We have precise control over the temperature of gallons of water when we shower everyday. I use it to cook, clean, water my plants, and never give a second thought to its source or safety.

I cannot accept that everyone doesn’t have access to this simple yet basic need for life and it sickens me to think that the water currently in my toilet is cleaner than the water that so many people are drinking. So for this motherload of a fundraising effort, we are choosing water.  

Unintentional Ripple Effects

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My favorite paying job by far was when I worked at Discovery Place Museum in Charlotte back in the early ’00’s. Not only did I adore the work that I did, but I was surrounded with colleagues who were fun, full of life, rich characters that became life long friends. I miss working with those individuals still to this day. One of my best friends there was Michael. Michael is highly intelligent, quick-witted, incredibly articulate and so very humble. We worked in the Education Department with a handful of other fantastic individuals. You’ve hit the coworker jackpot when you click with your coworkers so well that it not only makes work more enjoyable, but you actually choose to spend time outside of work together socially.

I distinctly remember the restaurant we were at when I finally heard about Michael’s travels. It would change the course of my life but I didn’t know it yet. We got around to the subject of places you’ve been. In 2001, my subject matter on that topic was in short supply. Michael however, had done what so many people dream of doing. In 1995 when he was 26 years old, he had quit his job, liquidated most of his possessions and spent the next 3 years traveling the world. I sat in amazement (I’m sure my mouth was open and eyes wide in wonderment the whole time) as I listened to all the exotic places he went, things he did, and foods he ate. I soaked it all up like a dry sponge and lived every story vicariously through him. One stop on his travels struck a chord with me. He was recalling his time in Tanzania when he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Me: “Wait, you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro?!?! You can even do that?”

Michael: (Laughing) “Yes, you can absolutely do that.”

Me: “That is awesome! I want to do that!”

Just like dropping a stone into water, Michael’s story rippled out, unintentionally influencing others around him.

Back in 2009, Journey Church where we attended was offering a mission trip to Uganda. The church I grew up in didn’t participate in mission trips and I had never known anyone that had gone before who wasn’t a priest or pastor, or outside of a youth trip. I had this vision of what a “missionary” looked like in my head and it certainly wasn’t anyone I knew. Those were self-sacrificing people who didn’t have families or worldly possessions without a thing to lose right? It didn’t even strike me as an option to go.

Melissa was one of our very talented vocalists on the worship team who had a ridiculously cute, and I mean right out of a catalog, picture perfect, young family. She felt called to go and signed up. She had four kids! Two daughters and two sons who were only 12, 11, 7 and 6 years old at the time. Her husband worked full-time. How was she going to manage that?

That wasn’t all she did. If her story would have stopped there for me, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. For months leading up to her departure, Melissa journaled about her trip and posted it for all to see. She wrote about her feelings of excitement, insecurity, how grateful she was, how scared she was, concerns for her family, finances, etc. She asked for prayers, she prayed for support, all the while professing how she knew God would provide. Melissa opened up and made herself vulnerable, to many of us who didn’t even know her well. She allowed others a peak inside her private world to show how God was working through her. And I was in awe.
How absolutely courageous of her to be so transparent, sharing both her positive AND negative thoughts and emotions. That was the first time I figured out it was normal to be scared about a big decision like that. My thought process instinctively told me you shouldn’t have a shadow of a doubt about going, in order to actually go. Melissa turned that perspective right on it’s head. Missionaries weren’t young mothers, leaving their families and homes behind who had concerns about the trip! That certainly wasn’t something I should do.

That’s when I heard the first whisper say “Why not you?” The ripple Melissa sent out into the world through social media reached me in the privacy of my own home where it would start to swell and shape my future.

Michael is a very modest guy. No one could ever accuse him of bragging and he wasn’t trying to impress anyone when he shared his story of his travels. In fact I had already been friends with him quite some time before I stumbled upon that gem of knowledge.

He had no way of knowing that telling me about a mountain he climbed half way around the world back in 1996 could ever possibly result in HUNDREDS of children and families getting access to CLEAN WATER.

Melissa wasn’t trying to convince the world she was holier than thou or to garner admiration for all the goods things she was about to do. She just poured her heart and prayers into her writing regarding her trip.

She had no idea that the simple act of her sharing her feelings about that trip would result in IMPROVED SANITATION for HUNDREDS of people years later, on a totally separate mission trip she wouldn’t even be on!

Your stories have ripple effects like water. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your story or how it can inspire someone else. You may never even know what course changes you are making in someone’s life when you decide to open up, and SHARE. You would be amazed at the incredible reach your ripple effects can have.

I have no idea if anything will ever come of me sharing my story, but I’m not naive enough anymore to think anything won’t. I’ve witnessed first hand how God works through others. How seemingly insignificant things can impact someone. How it can take years for an idea to develop because the courage 2 individuals had to share part of their stories.

So here is my promise to all of you. I promise to be genuine and honest. I can’t however promise to always be grammatically correct. I will start sentences with ‘And’ and other conjunctions or whatever it is you’re not supposed to start sentences with and end them with prepositions galore (I can feel my 8th grade English teacher whipping out his red pen now). However, it won’t matter because my goal isn’t to present perfection. My goal is to be authentic sending out ripples from the stories of both the good and the bad because I know just as much can be birthed from either. I hope you will too.

So go.  Cast your ripples into the world.

The Perfect Hat-Trick

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Sometimes you have to go knocking down doors looking for opportunity, and other times it appears in your inbox wrapped up as the perfect hat-trick wearing a bow.

It was mid August when the email from Compassion International entitled “It’s the adventure of a lifetime in Tanzania!” arrived.  First, let it be noted that I am HORRIBLE about reading my email and prove even more deplorable when it comes to answering.  Sometimes days go by before I realize I have not checked it.  I can hear you all saying “I wish I could go days without checking my email!”  That is just one of the many perks of early retirement. I know, I am incredibly blessed.  So it was divine intervention that I happened to read my email this particular morning.

It read…

Dear Holly,

Do you live for adventure? Do you even know what my title is? I am The DIRECTOR of Adventuring!

And for bringing hope?  Um yes, I happen to be a big fan of hope and try to spread it often.  I Love Hope!  Faith, Love and Hope, it’s my mantra.  I am hopelessly hopeful.

Then I’ve got just the challenge for you.  Please join me on a once in a lifetime trip to Tanzania!  There are only 15 spots available-so be sure to sign up today! This is a unique opportunity to experience things you never imagined…and bring more joy than you’ve ever imagined to children in need.  I hope to see you there!

Looming overhead of this text was a majestic shot of a snow capped mountain surrounded by just the right amount of translucent, wispy clouds in front of a perfect blue sky with the words “Compassion Cause Trek KILIMANJARO CHALLENGE”.

OMGOSH OMGOSH OMGOSH

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has been on my bucket list since 2001 when I first learned it was even a thing, like a real life activity that the powers that be allow you to do. *First Score!

After reading further I learned that if we had a sponsor child in Tanzania we would get to meet them in person and spend an entire day together.  Enter Emmanuel, our Compassion Sponsor child.  We would get to meet Emmanuel in the flesh!  He would no longer be just a picture of a serious little boy sans smile, sporting pants too small for him standing in a dirt patch.  He would become more to us than just letters from a child half way around the world trying to tell us about a life we couldn’t possibly comprehend from the comforts of our home in the very privileged United States of America.  We get to meet him, and hug him and have him see our smiles and our excitement to meet him.  He will learn that he is important enough to us to make the long trek from where we live to meet him in his home country.  When we chose Emmanuel years ago, we specifically chose a child from Tanzania with the incredibly far fetched dream that if we ever were able to go visit, we would be able to climb our mountain as well.  What a grand trip that would be!  *Second Score! 

The trek is part mission trip working on projects at a Compassion assisted Child Development Center, part raising awareness about sponsoring a child through Compassion International, and part raising funds for CLEAN WATER by getting sponsors to climb Mt. Kili.  Access to clean water for all has been a cause our family has been passionate about for a number of years.  We donate annually to clean water initiatives around the globe and this Cause Trek will directly benefit HUNDREDS of children and families right there at Kilimanjaro!  *Third Score!  

*The Perfect Hat-Trick.  It’s a done deal.  Signed, Sealed and Delivered.

Sometimes in life the stars perfectly align so it is impossible to deny an opportunity was meant to be.  I love those times I can say “Huh, I see what you did there God.  I like it!”  There have been so many other factors leading up to this trip for years that I can’t wait to share them all with you.

This opportunity is not short on challenges however.  Did I mention I have Systemic Lupus Erythematosus that causes joint pain and fatigue that caused my early retirement?  Yeah, I take prescription pain killers and need to take naps almost everyday.  Does that sound like a good candidate to go scale the world’s highest freestanding mountain to you?  Or did I mention that the entire trip + fundraising amount we pledged to raise as a family totals $30,000?! (Gulp) I know that may be pocket change to some, but to us that is a scary, huge amount. What in the world did we commit to?

Remember that part about Hope?  Yes, we have hope.  We are hopelessly hopeful.  It is going to be the adventure of a lifetime in Tanzania.

You are all invited to join us in this adventure!