July 18, 2006
Every once in a while you have to risk something, do something that scares the be-jesus out of you so you know you’re alive, so you know you can.
The more fears I face in this life the more I realize that not a lot scares me.
And that is a feeling I like, one that drives me, one that offers me a lot of freedom to do anything, anywhere for any cause I deem worthy. People ask me if I’m afraid to go up to Gulu alone or to travel by myself at night and I sort of want to say yes so they won’t just think I’m naïve or stupid, but the reality is—I’m not.
It’s funny how many physical fears we can face with ease, but how cautious we are with our hearts.
These days I wake up and go to sleep alone, unafraid. And my own skin is a comfort, not a terror.
I almost prefer eating dinner by myself now, something I used to want to master. I used to hate the thought of going to a nice restaurant and trying to read a book, all the while wishing I had someone to share it with or another person to justify spending the money. Now, I welcome it. God is funny. It’s all about stretching us. Some people need to learn to stop being such a loner, for me, I needed to learn how to enjoy my experiences just as much without sharing them, because I by nature, love to share moments.
Somehow in my travels, I ended up in Mbale. It sounds like a reggaeton song my girls in YoungLives might listen to. Mbale is at the base of Mt. Elgon. Which just sounds cool. Elgon. Rah. It was perfect.
The kind of secret you want to keep for fear of the place getting overrun. It was wild, and raw, and quiet. As I approached the mountains on yet another dirty, rainy bus-ride, I felt my soul get excited. I’ve tried to be diplomatic and say I love the beach just as much as the mountains, but it’s just not true. I mean, Jesus went up to the MOUNTAIN to pray. He didn’t go to the river people. Or the ocean. Or the tabernacle.
And like Him, I always feel closer to God up in the mountains, in stretches of wilderness.
Mbale is something of a paradise. And it has its hold on me. I went there to pray. I went there to learn to pray.
And I went there to meet with God when I am two weeks away from going back to the USA and a life that is penniless and unsure.
I went ab-sailing in Mbale, Uganda. It was sort of my way to end my little retreat, my way of closing the deal. The entire time I was up at Sipi Falls I felt as though God was asking me the question—“Am I enough?” If I lost it all—the dream, the boy, the pictures of my time here (ok God you’re pushing it) would he still be enough?
The answer is unequivocally, that would suck, but yeah.
Now you’re probably thinking what is ab-sailing exactly? I wasn’t too sure either. Let me put it into context for you. Turns out it’s a lot like repelling only with less control. Nothing to do with abs. Nothing to do with sailing.
In fact the entire word is misleading. Now I know what you’re thinking—cool—ROTC flashbacks of jumping off Eagle Hall etc. Hoorah! It’s a little different doing extreme sports in Africa. Different as in stupid. They don’t exactly give instructions. Their version of instructions is, “here watch me…” Simple right?
One little African fellow goes over the edge like he’s climbing into a bathtub. And away he goes. “Ok now you. You come. Put feet here.” I look at him dubiously. So is it the same as repelling? Arm behind to front action? “Yes, yes, it hard at first but then become easy.” Hmm, sounds vague. Deep breath. Ok here we go.
The hardest part as in most things in life is the moment right before, the moment as you just begin with your feet unsteady, holding onto an African man who could use a shower, for dear life because your life is in this skinny man’s hands. Put on some weight fella. Ok I know it has nothing to do with weight. Not sure of the physics of it all, but even a girl like me can belay someone down a mountain. There is no “on belay,” “off belay” though this time. Just stick your foot over the edge and lean back. Where? Right there, oh yeah sorry I missed the crack in the rock face. My bad. Eventually I realize he’s not going to tell me any more. I’m on my own. Right. Lean back, feel the weight of you tied to this rope on a sheer rockface of a mountain next to a gigantic, ferocious waterfall. At that point on the edge hanging with no where to go but down you’re wondering, “Why am I doing this?” Really do I have a death wish of some kind? I can only answer yes and be ok with it. Ever since I was a little girl I’ve wanted to do things that make me feel alive.
Today was about proving that to myself again—taking a step of trust, of faith. Yes I can. I made it down the mountain kind of half-jolting. I could let go of the rope through my fingers and realize I was letting my life slip away, but I was not the one holding me. The guy on top, he was the one doing all the work. He was the one holding me and yeah you can make all kinds of faith correlations there but I just wanted to get down the mountain. Even if it did look like it came straight out of Lord of the Rings. But here’s the spectacular thing—as you’re passing down the side of the waterfall you get the spray and in that spray, a curved rainbow, a complete one that you can’t see anywhere else but from that side suspended above the earth, on a cliff in Africa. It is truly gorgeous.
So gorgeous that I want to hang there forever between heaven and earth dissolving into the colors being washed anew by water and light.
But it ends.
I land awkwardly, well before I land I have to let go of the rope I’ve been feeding through the karabiner. I realize its too short to reach the ground and there is still about a ten foot drop, but the guy below says, “let go” so I do it, sort of gritting my teeth in resistance at the same time. It whips around and then slips through and I think I will drop to the ground and crush this man. Amazingly I don’t plummet to my death.
There was another rope. A red one I had forgotten about that holds me as I spiral down into the waiting arms of another Ugandan who is skinnier than I am. And I feel incredibly grateful.
To him, to the universe, to God to the almost lime green mountains, my last of the Mohicans waterfall. (Just stay alive. I will find you!)
What’s funny is after you land you have to hike in mud over treacherously slippery rocks, over the waterfall basin where at one point you have to straddle spread eagle between one rock to another holding onto the side of a boulder, and then climb up a mud-slide all the while trying to get one last glimpse of the rainbow, one last mist upon your face. This part is almost worse than going over the edge. I hike back out of the forest which is kind of like the Heart of Darkness and am filled with overwhelming exuberance and joy. So much so that I keep making my guide stop to look and enjoy our view of the valley between two mountains bathed in afternoon light so bright that it almost looks misty like the emerald Irish countryside (I’ll make it there Seamus) the horizon darkening with a summer storm.
Poor guide, I’m blabbing on about how its so easy to feel closer to God up here and how he needs to enjoy this view every day and never take it for granted (crazy mzungu) when it starts to rain. Now most Africans are afraid of rain. They think it gives them malaria.
I love standing outside in the rain apart from the fact that most people would think I’m an absolute freak, I would do it all the time.
For me, I feel like my day is complete—a nice gentle rain, God is smiling upon me, showering his blessing. I feel like screaming into the wild some kind of banshee noise. I feel so full. My heart seems to almost expand as if I could contain more thankfulness, more love, more love. And no fear.
A friend once told me that we act out of one of two base emotions: either love or fear. Everything dwindles down to those two things. And if we can leave behind all the fear—what we have left is love.
I feel like God is speaking, I feel like the rain is his answer, his whispering a language only I can understand. That was until it started storming so hard I thought God had sent a hurricane in the middle of Africa. My clothes were soaked through in minutes and it started dripping off my nose when we still had fifteen minutes to go and no warmth to go back to. But my faithful guide—he kept on trudging and when I asked if he feared the rain, he said,
“No. I have strong blood.” Yeah, me too.