This is part of a series of posts about the #1MTclimb4peace charity climb and my #MPC2016 challenge up Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016 (International Women’s Day) with One Million Thumbprints. Please click the hashtag #1MTclimb4peace to see all of the posts in the series.
As most of you know by now (and by most, I mean the wonderful 7 of you who subscribe to this blog 🙂 ), our whole team summited Mt. Kilimanjaro on March 8, 2016. Statistically, 3 of us were not supposed to make it for one reason or another. We beat the odds, and all 15 summited Kili at the Gilman’s Point summit (with some truly incredible stories to boot!). There are 3 summits along the rim of the top of the mountain. Some paths take you to Gilman’s Point first, others to Stella’s Point and the last summit is called Uhuru Peak.
I did not know what Uhuru meant when I stood in front of the sign at the peak. A group of 6 of us had continued along the trail past Gilman’s to try to make it to Uhuru before bad weather came in. As soon as the sign was in sight, our guide said, “Go ahead and run if you want… no more pole pole.” I literally ran to the sign. I was euphoric. My heart was about to beat out of my chest, but I was giddy with excitement. We all took our photos, cried, hugged and just a few minutes later our guide said, “Sorry, we have to go now, the storm has come.” And we booked it down the mountain in a complete white out (hail, rain, snow, fog). But that is a story for another post…
(when I ran to the sign and took a selfie because no one else was there to take the photo yet 🙂 )
It wasn’t until the next day, our last day on the trek that I found out what the Swahili word Uhuru means.
Have you ever had an experience where a word or phrase jumped out and just grabbed you at a soul level? Perhaps you pick a word each year and it really defines your journey for that time… Perhaps something happens and that word or phrase helps you hold on when life seems to be crumbling around you.
This was my word.
Personally, climbing Kilimanjaro was a journey of freedom for me. This whole blog is a testament to that journey. It has been an intensely personal journey of becoming free FROM some things and free to BECOME something new. This is the beauty of participating in a community like My Peak Challenge, where the challenge to get fit and healthy permeates all parts of our lives… emotional, spiritual, mental, physical.
This past year, I have become free of unhealthy patterns and thoughts (I can’t do it, I am not a runner, I will never finish this, I can’t climb that, I won’t be able to breathe up there), unhealthy beliefs (about faith, God, myself, my purpose). And in the process of getting free from those things, I am becoming something totally new. I am healthier than I have been in years. I have accomplished goals and benchmarks that that old me would have given up on a long time ago. I have pursued dreams and attained them. I have a newfound sense of worth and purpose and calling. I (physically and mentally) can and do hard things for the sake of others. I am now living a legacy that I feel good about leaving my girls. (Please hear my heart… this is not coming from a place of pride or arrogance, but of transformation and deep gratitude for the changes in my life.)
(this was the first drawing I did of the tattoo.)
So, this idea of uhuru, of freedom is deeply personal and meaningful to me.
It also represents the past few years of my social justice journey. About 6-7 years ago, I started learning about human trafficking and slavery. Since then, social justice issues and passion has very much been a part of my life and personal journey… from starting the Do A Little Good website, to hosting fair trade holiday shopping events, so hopping on planes and flying to places like India and the DRC to document and share stories of freedom and hope and dignity in the face of intense suffering.
Climbing Kilimanjaro with One Million Thumbprints was an act of pursuing the freedom of my sisters who live in the war-torn countries of the Congo, South Sudan and Syria/Iraq… freedom from violence, shame, despair. We long to see women around the world free to live with value and purpose, in dignity and in safety. That is why we climbed. For uhuru, for peace.
When I came home, I realized I wanted to do something that would literally engrave this word, this concept of freedom on myself. So, I engraved it on my skin.
My first tattoo.
Mountains: If you have read this blog from the beginning, you know how much the mountains mean to me. They are one of my happiest of places. Always have been. And it was Sam Heughan’s munro images on Instagram that literally shook me out of my numbing life existance onto this journey of freedom a year ago (almost to the day… April 1). The three peaks are representative of the MPC logo and the role that community has played in my life and transformation over this past year. They are also representative of the 3 loves of my life… my three little girls who are watching me, learning from me.
Uhuru: I drew this word out in my own handwriting, which is way messier and harder to read than the tattoo artist’s handwriting was. But I asked her to trace my handwriting because this journey of freedom is seldom neat and tidy and more often messy and hard to follow.
Rivers: The lines on either side of uhuru represent another happiest of places for me… the river. I grew up on rivers and streams and I would rather be in a river than just about any other body of water. I love the sound, the feel, the look. I love that they are in constant motion, moving with purpose with a destiny in mind. They are refreshing.
I chose to have this put on my wrist so I could look at it each day and remember… Remember the past, the journey, the accomplishments, the adventure (MPC, Kilimanjaro!). Remember where my soul finds rest and peace (mountains and rivers!), and where I have yet to go (more peaks and valleys) on this journey. Remember my calling and purpose (to pursue freedom for myself and others).
Getting the tattoo was actually a deeply spiritual experience. I didn’t expect that. I never thought I would get a tattoo (just never had the desire), but now I can’t imagine not having this symbol on my body.
Again, I am so, so, so incredibly grateful for this experience and journey… all of it. I am so grateful to be on the path I am on now. I am actually excited about life, about the future and all the possibilities it holds. Reminds me of a verse in the Bible that I used to laugh (cynically) about, but that I can actually hold with hope now. Proverbs 31:25:
She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.