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Sunday, January 31, 2016

I've Been to the Mountaintop...with Nina Sophia!

Over the weekend, my family and I were invited to join close friends on a quest to walk to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. "It will be a nice leisurely walk," we were told. "Plus, it is beautiful outside!" Convinced we could not pass up the invitation, we loaded up the kids and were off!

The last time our family had been to Kennesaw Mountain was more than two yeas ago when we visited as a way to celebrate Mother's Day. I was pregnant with Nina Sophia at the time, our fifth child, and secretly hoped the visit would encourage her to make her way into the world. Of course, Nina had plans of her own and did not make her arrival until a few weeks later, closer to her due date. Nonetheless, the kids had a vague memory of visiting Kennesaw Mountain, but their memory included a shuttle bus trip up and back down the mountain. Not so for this trip.

We all started out at the base of the mountain as a group but quickly broke into smaller groups as we proceeded towards the top. My husband had Josiah, our youngest, in the stroller and was taking the mountain by storm with his long strides. Next, the children's Godfather was in the lead as he and our Godson, along with Joshua and Hannah gradually made their way towards the summit. The children's Godmother was next in our walking caravan while Nina Sophia and I brought up the rear.

I was bemused many times during our trek as I watched, coaxed, encouraged and even pulled Nina to continue on our journey. Our experience reminded me of how we can feel with life: fully focused and on fire, while at other times frustrated and distracted.

Nina, like most of us, started out with a burst of energy. She ran, even hopped at times, full of excitement, as she watched other walkers and their families pass us on both sides. Her high energy and positive disposition were quickly tested.

As we continued, her gait slowed and I could see irritation and frustration were taking the place of the excitement and energy that had been present only moments ago. Other members of our party began to become faint images as the distance between us grew.

"C'mon, Nina! Let's go! We can do it!," I would say to her. She was not amused nor moved.

At times, Nina would simply stop in the middle of the path and refuse to go further until I was able to convince her to keep going. It was at these times when I had to think about her motivation. What would keep her going? Joshua and Hannah were always far-off figures in front of us and I told her that if she kept going, we would eventually catch up to them. That worked for a few moments until she stopped again. I fought the urge to give into the frustration she was displaying and tried to think of other ways to keep her motivated.

At one point, there was a couple who came from behind us with their dog, Ginger. Ginger was a cute little small dog and the couple, seeing my struggle to convince Nina to continue, asked Nina if she wanted to pet Ginger. As Ginger kept moving, Nina moved along with her in an attempt to touch her. "Thank you," I mouthed to them, as the five of us took several more steps towards our goal. They nodded and smiled in silent understanding. They eventually passed us, but in that brief moment, they had assisted us with our overall goal. I believe God sends reminders in the form of people to encourage us on our journeys and to let us know that we are not alone.

That brief interaction was also a reminder to monitor my motivation. While on the mountain, our goal was to reach the summit which caused me to think of multiple ways to motivate Nina. I have life goals as well and I have to find ways to motivate myself to keep my eyes on the prize. Whether it is an upcoming date night with my hubby or with one of our kids, or a chance to enjoy a new experience, it is absolutely OK to change my motivators as long as they assist with getting me closer to my goals.

Throughout our journey, Nina asked repeatedly for her father, whom she could not see. I kept telling her that he was just up ahead and that if we kept going, he would be there waiting for her with open arms. She would begin to trudge further a few more steps, with a renewed sense of hope and motivation. I wondered how many times our lives are just like this, where we ask for our Heavenly Father because we are in need or distressed and cannot see Him? Nina's call for her father reminded me that our Heavenly Father is ever-present. Not too far from us, always waiting. And at times, clearing the path before us, ensuring our journey is safe.

There were several instances where I considered slinging Nina. No, not off the path but onto my back, of course! I imagined it would be easier just to have her ride on my back. Easier for her because she would have the comfort of riding instead of walking and easier for me because I would not have to continue to pull her along. There was, however, a larger part of me that wanted to see if she could actually make it all the way to the top. I know that as a parent, the temptation to keep my children from experiencing discomfort is great. I want to protect them and keep them from experiencing any emotion that hinders their smiles. I was reminded, at that moment, of the story of the cocoon where the danger of opening the cocoon too soon prevents the butterfly from developing strong wings. This reminder and previous lower back issues kept me from placing Nina on my back. Onward we walked.

In an effort to keep Nina's mind focused on other items, I would point out the beautiful scenery that was along the path. From the far-reaching views of Atlanta to the chiseled stone with cascading fresh waters, I pointed out these aspects to Nina. Thankfully, these slight distractions did not take us off our path. They instead served as a form of reprieve. Sometimes in life, we can become distracted by things, people, activities, etc. and end up in places that were not a part of our original journey. Distractions can be helpful if used to redirect and keep you on your journey.

Because our acceptance of this adventure was a spur of the moment decision, we had not thought about the provisions which would have been needed for our walk. Needless to say, as walkers and joggers passed us with their water bottles, Nina would look at them with longing in her eyes and ask for water. My heart sank. I told her that we were going to get some soon if she continued to walk with Mommy. While Nina dragged her now heavy-laden feet, another walker overheard our conversation and offered a bottle of water to us. I thanked her profusely and noticed how excited and lively Nina became. While I could have beaten myself up for not thinking about the need for water, I instead chose to focus on how once again God sent a reminder in the form of a stranger. I was also thankful that the stranger chose to offer assistance instead of judging harshly and watching us scornfully from afar. God hears our requests, even the seemingly small ones.

When we finally rounded that last bend and could hear Joshua and Hannah calling out to us from the lookout point, there was such a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that rose in me at that moment. I know I had the "OMG" look on my face when I finally caught my husband's gaze. Ultimately, we all had made it to the Mountaintop but I was most proud of Nina. Her little toddler legs had taken her all the way up Kennesaw Mountain! To Nina's delight, she had a first class seat on her father's shoulders for the ride down. I think I saw a smile on her face the entire trip down. She was with her Daddy and we were heading home. Even though her journey was full of stops, starts, distractions and long pauses, she made it. In my book, that is what matters most...she made it.

We can all make it on our personal journeys. From my trek with Nina, I was reminded that while on our journeys, is important to monitor our attitudes, our motivation and to surround ourselves with those who will encourage us along the way. Another key lesson I learned from our walk is to ensure we are prepared for the journey at hand but if that preparation is not sufficient, learn from the mistakes and keep it moving. It is also important to enjoy the scenery. If we are so focused on what we do not have and what is causing that moment's frustration, we run the risk of missing the most beautiful views around us.

Enjoy your journey and remember you are not alone.

Shatanese Reese is a freelance blogger who lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband and their six children. Shatanese enjoys walks on the beach and color-rich sunrises. Her goal is to find inspiration in the every day happenings of life. Catch Shatanese on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Periscope.