Am I Good Enough?

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by Belinda Bauman | Twitter: @belindajbauman  | Instagram: @belidajbauman

The following is an except from Belinda Bauman’s new book Brave Souls available now from Intervarsity Press and all of your favourite book sellers. Used with permission.

What if empathy could save us?

Make no mistake, I knew climbing Kilimanjaro would not be easy. For this reason, I thought I’d bring along some soul sisters—but not because I wanted moral support. For us, climbing Kilimanjaro was an act of solidarity with women who suffer violence, and it was a tangible way to raise awareness for this pressing issue.

But attempting to summit with fourteen women was crazier than we’d thought. The statistics were stacked against us. Our bodies fought against us. Natural laws, like gravity and altitude sickness, conspired against us. “Climbing Kilimanjaro,” wrote Lynne one year later, “was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” But climbing the mountain required us to make hard choices. We had to first overcome ourselves. In the end, we were the biggest challenge, not the mountain.

Let me explain. Alanis Morissette’s brilliant song “That I Would Be Good” asks whether she would still be good if all went wrong—if she “got the thumbs down”; if she “got and stayed sick”; if she “gained ten pounds” or even lost her sanity. There’s something in the song that strikes deep in my psyche. If I fail and have nothing to offer, do I still count? Am I still good enough?

It’s customary for climbers to form a pact before setting out from base camp. “What happens on the mountain stays on the mountain” is the adage. Make no mistake. Oxygen deprivation, chronic cold fingers and toes, little sleep, and challenging terrain work wonders on your willingness to be a little less than kind.

Sensitivities slither out front and center; fears dance at the surface; anger boils over. People say and do things they later regret. Trust me.[1]

Let me just say I was genuinely worried about some of my sisters at different points along the trail. Take, for example, Leia. Late one day, just as we were finishing an acclimatization hike and nervously preparing for our summit that would begin at midnight, she ran into a snag. We were becoming familiar with using oxygen tanks in case we needed them. But the elevation and oxygen hoses aggravated Leia’s sinuses to the point of bleeding. Tissue, toilet paper, and wet wipes were all precious on the mountain, so by day four, she—being a master of innovation—was using clean underwear to blow her nose. Constantly.

Leia was the definition of a fighter, but she was falling behind. She sat down to recover, only to get up and walk a hundred or so more steps before sitting down again. Every time I turned back to check on the situation, I became more concerned. I connected with our senior guide, Abraham, and had him check in with her. “Leia, would you like me to cry with you?” Abraham asked as he sat next to her on the rocks, reminding her crying makes snot, and snot was not what she needed right now. He could tell she was thinking about giving up. I could see it in her eyes too.

Then Tosha arrived. The oldest of our Tanzanian porters and guides, he had summited Kilimanjaro more than three hundred times. Tosha’s gentle, firm manner communicated authority. He was quick to laugh, yet when he spoke, we listened.

Placing a hand on her back, Tosha said, “Leia, do you know what my name means?” She shook her head. “I am the twelfth child of twelve children,” he said, smiling. “When I was born, my mother named me Tosha. And it means enough.”  Through the pain and mucous, Leia got the joke, and managed a smile. Then Tosha turned serious. “Leia, see, I am here with you, and you have everything you need to do this. You have enough. You are enough.”

Yep, you guessed it: tears. (And more snot too.)

From that moment on, I could not shake the words “I am with you. You are enough.”[2]

I was reminded of a Jewish tale. A rabbi gave a young boy two pieces of paper with a few words written on each. He told the boy to always keep one piece of paper in each of his pockets. When he was feeling as if he was not good enough, he should reach into his left pocket. When he was feeling proud, he should reach into his right. On those days when the boy was on top of the world, and he felt like all things bent to his will, he remembered to reach into his right pocket—The rabbi’s words? “You are made from the dust of the earth, and to this dust you will return.”

But when the world was against the boy and left him wondering whether he was good enough, he reached into his left pocket and read the rabbi’s note: “The God of the heavens made the universe for you.”

Made of dust but having infinite value. What a paradox! We are nothing and everything at the same time.

For most of us, the greatest enemy to doing good—to genuinely knowing and caring—is simply this: we don’t feel worthy.

We believe we’re not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not strong enough, not spiritual enough, not good enough. Why did Catholic Worker Movement founder Dorothy Day say, “Don’t make me a saint! I don’t want to be dismissed that easily”? Because if she were a saint, the rest of us could get off easy. We could freely leave doing good to those far better than us—more virtuous, more holy, more spiritual, more Dorothy Day.

So, we give up before we begin. We choose apathy or sympathy or even antipathy because we just can’t believe we’re capable of the virtue and hard work of empathy. Leave it for the saints; we’re not good enough.

But God says we are good enough. Our Creator has no illusions about us. He knows every square millimeter of you and me. God knows full well we aren’t capable of virtue. “We have all sinned”; we all “fall short” the Bible says (Romans 3:23). But God became like us so we could become like him—all of us, not just Day or Lewis or Pope Francis.

And herein lies the secret: We are good enough because God is good enough. Full stop. Just like Tosha was there for Leia, God is there for us. He makes us good when we admit our frailty, our inability, even our depravity and decide to follow him anyway. Without God, Leia gives up, the Jewish boy feels worthless, and we don’t climb the mountain or help brave souls fight violence against women. With God, the sky is blue, the boy changes the world, Leia doubles down, and fourteen women summit their mountain against the odds, each one overcoming themselves along the way.

“Good enough” became our team mantra. We constantly had to choose to slay our demons by believing in a God who loves us as we are, even as he’s making us into something more.

 

 

Belinda Bauman is the founder of One Million Thumbprints, a movement of peacemakers advocating with women in the world’s worst conflict zones. Belinda is also the founder of and the visionary behind #SilenceIsNotSpiritual, a campaign calling churches to break the silence on violence against women. Belinda is a speaker and contributor to Newsweek’s The Daily Beast, Red Tent Living, Huffington Post, and Christianity Today. Belinda completed a masters in curriculum development at Covenant College, and a certificate in lay trauma counseling from the Seattle School of Theology. She and her husband, Stephan, and their two sons live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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[1]For these reasons, I swore in blood—well, not quite in blood—to respect the stories of my fellow climbers. The good, the bad, and even the ugly in these pages is published with permission from my fellow brave souls.

[2]Leia Johnson is the founder and President of Somebody’s Mama (www.somebodysmama.com). After our Kilimanjaro adventure, she put her thoughts and wisdom to paper to write a downloadable E-book called Lectio. All proceeds given at downloadgo to our partnership in ongoing projects helping women across the globe. Her work inspired me and gave me courage to write my own story. Find Lectio at the Somebody’s Mama website!

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