It’s been almost eight years since my husband, Mark and I stood on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. That trip to Africa changed my life because of one key life lesson.
I want to share that lesson with you.
A few weeks before we left for Africa, I reached out to the company that was organizing our trip and asked: “What would be meaningful for us to bring to share with young people in Africa that doesn’t take up too much space (which was limited because of all the gear we needed to bring)?”
The response was: “Bring school supplies.”
So we filled every nook and cranny in our luggage with school supplies.
When the time came to drop off the supplies at the school, I just wanted to leave them with our guide and have him deliver them. Giving something as basic as school supplies somehow felt like it wasn’t enough.
But, our guide was adamant that we needed to deliver them ourselves. Thank goodness we did- because if we hadn’t I would have never learned this lesson.
When we arrived at the school we approached one of the teachers who was leading a group of young teenagers in a discussion about climate change. The teacher was gracious and stopped his lesson to welcome us with a huge smile. He learned that Mark had previously been in the oil and gas business and asked if he would share some of his insights and experiences.
After Mark finished the mini-lesson, the teacher toured us around the small school and then had a group of younger students line up to receive their school supplies. With bright eyes and excitement, the students received their supplies. The smiles on their faces made it very clear how happy they were to receive them.
A knot formed in my stomach when I noticed how long the line was. I soon realized that we were going to run out of school supplies before all the students would receive something. That weighed SO heavy on my heart!!!!
When the supplies ran out, I could see the disappointment in the student’s eyes and I said, “I’m sorry.”
The teacher said something to the students that I will never forget. With a big smile and a deep, confident voice he said: “If you got school supplies you are lucky AND if you didn’t get school supplies, you are also lucky.”
Wow, that had a huge impact on me.
Over the years I’ve asked myself why did that impact me so much?
Perhaps it was because it wasn’t how I had been viewing my life up until that point. If I got what I wanted, I was lucky and if I didn’t get what I wanted I was unlucky.
This one statement from a teacher to his students created a profound shift in the way I viewed the circumstances in my life especially the ones I wouldn’t have chosen.
I began to realize that every challenge, struggle or difficult time in our lives opens us up to get to know ourselves just a little bit better. It ultimately serves a higher purpose for the evolution of our souls. A purpose that isn’t always clear to us when we are smack dab in the middle of our suffering.
Let me give you a recent example, which highlights what I mean by this spiritual truth.
The other evening I felt compelled to watch a recent interview with Olivia Newton-John, an actress who among many other things starred in the musical film Grease many years ago. The interviewer was asking her about the breast cancer that had metastasized to her bones and therefore, was believed to be incurable.
During the interview, they also spoke with her daughter about her mom’s cancer and her own challenges with addictions. She explained that to be the kind of daughter that she wanted to be and to be there for her mom that she knew that she needed to heal her addiction. And so she did!
This is such a moving and powerful example that when we don’t get what we want or when something bad happens there is often a deeper level of healing that occurs.
This is not to say that we are meant to leapfrog over the human aspects of feeling disappointed and get on the fake positivity train. It just means that once we have felt our feelings and the sadness, loss, grief, pain, resistance or whatever our feelings are, that we ground ourselves in the inner knowing that there is something larger at work and that we are meant to lean into this knowing.
The students and teacher in Africa that day taught me a lesson that I will never forget. If we get what we want and life turns out as we believe it should, we are lucky. And if the universe has other ideas and our lives don’t turn out as we think they should, we are also lucky.
Have there been times in your life that were painful and yet looking back you realize that there was a silver lining or a life lesson that you needed to learn?