Monday, July 23, 2012

The next to the last word: Don't second-guess your journey

After the climb up most of Kilimanjaro last week and lots of time to reflect on the way back down.... these thoughts seemed appropriate to share.  And I'm guessing some points of connection with your journey as well.... when the path takes an unexpected turn.

Years ago I applied for a full time faculty position at Eastern but the job went to someone else.  I was so disappointed, but God had a better plan.   Had I taken that post, I would have never had the opportunity of a two-year teaching assignment in South Africa, would have never had the privilege of learning with brilliant students like Lloyd Williams and Bryne Joynerwood, how poorer my life would have been without this.

Upon return from my two years teaching in Africa, my Assistant Dean role had been dissolved, I was returning to a faculty hiring process, new colleagues and a lot of unknowns.  I was disappointed and anxious, but God had a better plan.  As a full time professor, I have the privilege of walking alongside, learning with, learning from, the most incredible doctoral and graduate students from around the world, and overseeing the Africa programs and their students every year, THESE are my true mountaintop experiences.

Last week I set out to climb Kilimanjaro, all the way to the top (Uhuru Peak).  On Wednesday, at the 14,000 foot mark, altitude sickness ended my efforts to reach the final peak.  I was (and am) so, soooo disappointed and showed it through the long sobs in the arms of my climbing mates Tim and Steph.  But God has a better plan…

After the crying ended, there in the “saddle” on the mountain, and as the reality of all of it set in, two thoughts came to mind:

-- There is a bit of beauty and poetry in the professor watching her former students press on to achieve something she won't.  Shouldn't that be what the professorate is all about?

--This wall that I've hit, that felt insurmountable, probably feels quite like the wall of obstacles my beloved students from Africa, from Asia, from Latin America feel when trying to complete or continue their leadership development for the difficult work of serving the poor that God has called them to.  And wasn't that what this climb was all about in the first place?  (are you listening Francis?  Are you listening Emmanuel? – a bend in the road does not mean the end of your journey).

After the long, long journey back down, a third thought came to mind:

--This was never about the three of us climbing a mountain.  The mountain was a metaphor for the uphill climb our students from around the world face.   I came up with this idea of a fundraising climb in 2005, and in this past year have been able to tell you of the challenges our African leaders face in preparing them better to end poverty and restore shalom in their countries.  If you haven’t had the chance to help them in this effort, I would humbly ask that you join us in “this climb” and do so right now…. Any small (tax deductible) contribution goes a LONG, LONG way…

I don't know what God's "better plan" is in all this for me, but I do know this.... David Greenhalgh, a colleague who completed this journey some years ago, suggested I be ready with a hymn at the top to sing with Tim and Steph at Uhuru Peak.

At 9:15 Thursday morning, as I was still dragging my sore and sickly body down to base camp, my guide got a text from Stephanie and Tim's guide… they had successfully made it to Uhuru Peak, Africa’s highest point, healthy, happy, safe and sound.  I started to cry again, this time with joy, and then came the hymn…

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee
How great Though art, How great Though art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee
How great Though art, How great Though art

Stay tuned… the Final Word on this blog is for my climbing mates, Steph and Tim, my Peak reachers, my heroes, my friends.

Beth B.

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