Saturday, 27 June 2015

Too much sugar

Something my very close friend said to me this morning. We weren't talking about marriage, actually; it just sort of came out of the blue. It was so striking that I asked her say it again (so I could type it up). I want to remember it.

After I posted this the first time, she went on to say (via email):

'I hope the comment makes sense to readers and helps them to understand that 'wholesome love' (if there's such a phrase) DEMANDS and insists on responsible behavior and accountability from one's partner. This kind of love does not avoid difficult conversations, but in a mature manner, brings up and addresses issues (be they on sex, money, in-laws, or whatever), rather than ignore them with the hope that they will somehow disappear over time. Ignoring stuff does not make the stuff disappear; it only hurts us, and weakens the cord of love and trust in the relationship. Wholesome love is not afraid to insist on being shown love and admiration, and being treated with respect and dignity. Of course, this love is also giving and caring. I'm sure you get what I mean. We must love and treat our spouse right, but we must also DEMAND the same from them, and we should never shy away from bringing up issues that bother us.'

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tall, dark, and handy

I got back from a trip a few weeks ago and stood outside the airport, waiting for my favorite cabbie to pick me up. He pulled up a few minutes later. In my car.

I got in, slightly puzzled, slightly amused.

‘Sorry,’ he said, laughing at my expression. ‘My car developed a problem at the last minute, so I decided not to risk using it to pick you up.’


I sat in the passenger’s seat in the front. It felt really odd because whenever I’m in my car, I’m in the driver’s seat. So this is what it feels like to sit on this side of my car, I thought to myself. It felt uncomfortable and horrible. To me, anyway. I suddenly began noticing all my car’s faults. They just seemed more visible sitting on the other side.

‘This car is really beginning to irritate me,’ I said out loud.

Poor thing. It turns 16 this year (like my son), and I bought it ‘gently-used’ a decade ago. How can it be 10 years ago, though? Where has the time gone?

It never lets me down. Then again, I hardly ever drive. I hate driving. I tell myself that my cab rides are my one luxury. (And my gym membership. Oh, yeah.). I hardly ever need to get it fixed. It’s solid. But old. And this year, it’s begun to look really old on the inside. It hardly cost anything and has more than served out its time, given what I paid for it. I thank God for it. Some of my friends have lovingly yabbed me over the years about my holding on to it, and I’ve always laughed it off, saying it was serving me well. But the wear and tear of age has taken its toll. One of my friends refers to it as ‘Grandma.’

I heaved a world-weary sigh.

I need a husband.

I sat with this thought for a while on my way home, suddenly intrigued by it.

Now, that’s an interesting thought. I don’t see the correlation, though. I think what you actually need right now is a new car.

Yeah, but if I had a husband, I wouldn’t need to bother having to think about one more thing. I don’t have any more room in my mind for anything new. He could just handle it and I could focus on a million other things.

My mind went back to how my car became my car in the first place. Back when we were married, my ex-husband made importing the car his personal project (much to my relief). He spent weeks doing his research and finally settled on a BMW. With all the car-jackings in this capital city, he figured I would need a reliable car that no one would want to steal. He was hardly ever around and wanted to be sure we’d be safe. ‘No one would want to steal a BMW in Nairobi,’ he explained. Apparently, car-jackers are only interested in Toyotas and Hondas (or at least they were in 2004). That sounded great to me. I think my involvement in this process (apart from footing the bill) boiled down to approving the color, and I was quite satisfied with that tiny role. How the car got from Japan to Kenya is beyond me, although I have all the paperwork in my possession.

Okay, so do you need a husband, or do you need a car broker?

Well, what’s wrong with having both?

Nothing! I’m just asking you what you ‘need’ right now.

Oh. … Well, in that case, the truth is, I know what to do in order to import a car. I may not know all the little details, but I know lots of people that would be happy to give me pointers and help me find a good deal. I guess I was just fatigued because I just got off a plane and so I started making mountains out of molehills.

Okay, good. So, back to the husband thing. If you ‘need’ a husband, then why have you been dodging your friends who’ve been trying to hook you up with eligible, ‘forty-something’ bachelors?

‘Dodging’ is a strong word. I haven’t exactly been dodging. I’m just being cautious and trying to make up my mind about what I want and what’s best before taking on any new responsibilities. A relationship is a huge responsibility.

Okay, so stop deceiving yourself, then. You need a new car and you’re not a two-year old. You know how to get one. No one ever said a husband was a pre-requisite. So, do what you need to do.

You’re SO annoying. Hush!

That settles it. Next year, God willing, I’m upgrading my car.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Don’t steal from yourself (Lesson #10)

Yeah. Like my desire for improvement in terms of ACTUAL WEIGHT LOSS!!!

I may be wrong, but I suspect you have to be on a weight loss journey yourself to really grasp how easy it is to lose sight of your small victories when the scale refuses to budge. I mean, I’ve been investing time and energy into something that doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. It’s been six months now. About an hour a day, three days a week without fail – except for a day here or there when I have to travel. I have gone from getting practically no (really vigorous) exercise at all to structured, planned workouts with a trainer. Why I’m not skinny by now is beyond me (lol).

Yeah-yeah-yeah. I know, I know, I know:

You spent more than 6 months putting it on, so don’t expect it to come that fast.

It’s all about calories in versus calories out.

Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise.

You can’t outrun (or, in my case, outjog) your mouth.

This is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. Give it at least a year or two.

Just keep doing things the healthy way. It may take longer, but it’ll stay off longer, too.

Yada-yada-yada. Whatever. I get it.

I know exactly how I put on the weight, and how long it took to do so. I was there.

But when the scale doesn’t budge (or when things don’t ‘change’ in general) when you’re at least trying, there’s a strong temptation to begin to question the utility of regular, vigorous ANYTHING.

How much better off am I now than before? I’m sure my routine is doing all sorts of wonderful stuff that I can’t ‘see.’ Wonderful stuff for my heart, etc., etc. And, to be honest, I got a gym membership primarily for those kinds of reasons. I needed to do something very deliberate in order to cope with the stress levels that are just part of the life of a busy, harassed, single parent, ‘reluctant’ career woman with a relatively active church life. I have no regrets about joining a gym; it was a great decision. But vanity is taking over and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. It’d be nice to actually LOSE some weight, tool! How am I not losing weight? How is that even possible?’

You’re gaining muscle. This is a good thing. Muscle weighs more than fat, though, so it may take a while before the changes reflect on the scale.

You’re losing fat. A pound of muscle looks better than a pound of fat.

You’ll gain before you lose.

Blah-blah-blah. Yada-yadi-yada.

When did these theories emerge? And are they only for women in their 40s??? There was a time when if I wanted to lose weight, all I had to do was want to, and I’d lose it. What did a pound of this and that have to do with it back then?

Well, you were probably just one of those ‘skinny fat’ people who aren’t actually healthy.

(Well, ‘skinny fat’ people sure do look good.)

The danger with having these arguments with myself is that they are compelling enough to potentially make me fall off the bandwagon.  But I have a number of small victories to take pride in, and I’m not going to let my thoughts steal those away.

My sisters, trainer, friends, enemies, and acquaintances alike have all tried to break down the ‘muscle vs. fat’ thing for me like I’m a two year-old. They’ve tried many times. My brain has simply been unable to fully grasp the concept. Just when I think I’ve got it, I’ve lost it. However, I’m not so dumb that I don’t sort of think they have a point.

My clothes all fit better. Much better. As a matter of fact, I’m now able to wear some things that I’d long abandoned or forgotten about. I bought a black skirt and a couple of blouses 3 years ago – all really cute and really tight at the same time. I didn’t realize until after the fact that they’d all been cut rather small. I never wore them until this year. On a whim, I tried them on just a few weeks ago and they all fit! The skirt is actually so loose that it rotates around my waist during the day without my realizing it. How I am able to slip on that skirt is still the 9th wonder of the world to me. How could this possibly happen without MAJOR weight loss? I really don’t get it.

I always thought this particular skirt was too short. Now that I can get into it, I’m shocked to find that it’s actually a midi-skirt and really comfortable, too.

Sometimes these days, when I walk past a mirror, I stop and came back to the mirror in surprise: Does my face look thinner, or is it just my imagination? Nah … I must be imagining things …

But a few people (and I really mean just a few) feel like something’s different, too. A couple have actually gone so far as to say the magic words: ‘You look smaller.’ These have been people from out of town who rarely see me, so I have to believe them.

The most convincing incident for me to date, though (besides the black skirt) has been the few pictures I’ve taken of myself with my terribly outdated cell phone which everyone (including my kids) has begged me to get rid of. My sisters were so impressed that I actually took some pictures. One of them emailed, saying, ‘Ah-ah – even bathroom selfies? Well done!’ Anyway, my point was that the same week I shared these pictures with them, my workplace did some sort of publicity event and one of their related publications had my picture on it. They hadn’t asked me for a picture to use (which is great, since I wouldn’t have had any to give!), but they just used one taken at the office last year. My other sister emailed me about it, saying: ‘You look like a linebacker’ – hahahahaha! (She’s so mean, but she wasn’t lying.)

They all remarked, though, that I’d clearly lost weight, comparing my ‘pro footballer’ photo to my ‘bathroom selfies.’ Even I had to admit that there’s a big (no pun intended) difference.


Not according to the scale, anyway. Not really.

Does it matter, though? I’m sure I will lose weight. Eventually. (Whenever that is).

What matters more, though – my hang-up, or the fact that there is a change, that there is progress?

Is there any reason why ‘progress’ can’t be re-defined? I’ve learned to be open-minded about progress in other areas of my life and have found it so liberating and productive: with projects at work, with my children, certainly with my divorce. Why not just grant myself this same privilege? Why rob myself of the privileges I have freely given other people and other things? The privileges of flexibility, patience, and of just trying to see the best … or of trying to see the ‘bigger’ picture.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Don’t postpone happiness (Lesson #9)

Be happy now. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect before I can release myself to just be happy. After all … what if this is all there is? What if today, or this year, is all I’ve got? Why not be happy with what I’ve got, while I work towards whatever else I might want? And as I work towards that, why not just be happy while going through the process?

We all know of far too many people whose lives were cut short when they and those around them least expected it. I have friends and acquaintances who succumbed to cancer, or to injuries from road accidents, for instance. A University classmate of mine was killed during one of the bombings in Abuja a few years ago. His office building happened to be a target and he didn’t make it out alive. Another classmate of mine (primary and secondary school) recently lost her husband. He was so young and now she’s a widow with five kids.

When I think of all these things, it just seems like sheer folly not to appreciate the time that I have, and not to at least try to happily use it to the fullest – even when the going gets tough.

I’m going to try hard not to put happiness off until I’ve crossed the finish line. Where is the finish line, anyway? In my experience, it’s a moving target. If that is indeed the case, it means I’ll never experience true happiness on this earth if I wait to get to a particular place first.

We’re admonished to ‘count it all joy’ when things get rough. Because of some of the rough times I’ve been through, and the fact that I made it through them, my heart no longer sinks when I read that Bible verse. I really get it now. I had some really rough times in 2012 and 2013. But because of those times, I’m much stronger in faith in 2014 than I was back then. I’ve been tested and tried and knocked down, and as a result of those experiences, I’ve also had the opportunity to experience great mercy. I know what God is capable of! My 2012 and 2013 experiences enriched my knowledge in this area. I’ve observed that I worry less in 2014 than I did before. I pray with more certainty, too. Never could’ve happened without those tough times to help me flex my muscles.

‘Things aren’t as bad as they seem.’

My son sent me a text with those exact words early this year. He was feeling down about a bad grade he got on a test, so he went into the bathroom at school to be alone and get over it and sent me the text from there. I sent what I hope was an encouraging reply, but didn’t hear back from him right away. I said something to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s one test and there’ll be others. You still have some time to make up your grade.’ A couple of hours later, a philosophical text message from him came in: Things aren’t as bad as they seem.  

Indeed, they are not. Here’s an example of why I know this for sure: I have never been one to take a lot of pictures because I’ve always considered myself unphotogenic. I’m just one of those people who look much better in person than in pictures. What this means is that there are whole periods of my life that have gone undocumented, photo-wise. Here’s why this is a shame: Today, when I look back at the old pictures I do have, I realize that in previous years, I had a distorted view of what I really looked like. I look at some of those pictures now and see myself as I really was back then. I look at them today and think to myself: Wow, I was pretty and I didn’t even know it.

On my fortieth birthday, the youth group in my church put together a cute, touching video chronicling my short life. They got my old pictures behind my back and showcased some of them in the video. A couple of the pictures were taken when I was around the same age as my daughter. When those showed up on the screen, my birthday party guests let out a collective gasp. ‘Who is that?!’ they all wanted to know. ‘Is that your daughter?’ They argued amongst themselves that it couldn’t possibly be me, because it looked just like my daughter.

‘That’s me,’ I replied slowly, with the same wonderment, suddenly struck by how my daughter looks almost exactly like me at that age. I always knew she looked a lot like my family, but this was really striking, seeing my picture up on a screen. I’m like every other mom in the world who thinks her children are just beautiful (There’s nothing you can tell me O!).

Why I couldn’t see that same beauty in me over the years is beyond me.

Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but why can’t I just be who or what I want to be today, knowing that who or what I am is enough? When people tell you how wonderful you are today, believe them. Today. And be happy. Today.

Back to the main point: I’ve worked relatively hard over the last 5 months or so, considering that I’ve never been into vigorous exercise in my adult life. I thought by now I’d see a major difference with all the effort I’ve put in so far. For whatever reason, I don’t see it. Okay, I do see it, but only ever so slightly. A few other people see it, too. I’m not going to let the fact that I don’t yet see exactly what I expected to see affect my joy, though, or my resolve. I haven’t been too good at ‘seeing things’ in my life until long after the fact, anyway, so why not just be happy now? And then in my 50s, look back at my pictures in my 40s and say, ‘I sure was happy!’ And: ‘I sure was nice and fit! Those work-outs really paid off!’

Today is much better than we think with our limited vision. Things are much better than they seem.

My brothers and sisters, be very happy when you are tested in different ways. You know that such testing of your faith produces endurance. Endure until your testing is over. Then you will be mature and complete, and you won’t need anything (James 1:2-4, GW).

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4, NLT).

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

When you want to quit, don’t (Lesson #8)

‘The miracle of continuing.’

This is the phrase that came to me this morning as I thought about Lesson #8. I looked up the word ‘continue,’ which means to ‘persist in an activity or process’ or to ‘recommence or resume after an interruption.’

Essentially, the pace doesn’t matter, as long as the persistence doesn’t wane. And even if it does wane, as long as there is life, there’s always a chance to start off from where you stopped. There is something to be said for just hanging in there.

I can’t help but notice how amazed people are when they see my children after a long time.  One such woman (a married lady) remarked about this publicly at a get-together we both attended; then she pulled me to the side and whispered (almost conspiratorially): Well done!

Her hushed, conspiratorial tone made me laugh, and I understood those two, simple words perfectly: Well done with managing to do this on your own, she meant. ‘They’ thought you would roll over and die, but you’ve ‘shown’ them.

I get this a lot. What people don’t realize, though, is that I have no idea what I’m doing. Like any other parent (whether coupled or single), I have no explicit manual to help me figure out how to raise each of my very different children. This has far less to do with me than people realize. Over the years, I have just done what I could each day, keenly aware of my deficiencies and imperfections. And then one day, I woke up and I had a teenager as tall as me and a seven-year old who looks at least 10. How did they grow up this fast? Certainly not through any miracle that I’ve performed.

With my children, there has never been any question that I would make it to the end with them, no matter what. Even when I can’t see the path that lies ahead of us clearly. When it comes to them, I have what I would describe as a supernatural resolve and determination. Whatever it is, we’ll work it out, we’ll find a way. I will leave no stone unturned to find a solution. And God has truly been faithful.

I’ve wanted to quit many times when it comes to other things, though. Many times, I’ve wanted to take what seemed like an ‘easier’ route on the surface. But I look back and see that I’ve made it through these challenges, not necessarily by doing anything brave or dramatic, but simply by keeping at it – by just getting through my day. Seven days make a week. Do that 52 times, and the year is gone. To others, it may look like much more than that is involved – and sometimes, this is absolutely the case – but overall, it’s about sticking with it and refusing to give in to anything but what God Himself has for you.

There is a miracle in just continuing. Go, go, go – keep going! You’ll get there. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sometimes things don’t go as planned (Lesson #7)

This is not the life I planned for myself. Ultimately, it’s a good life (thanks be to God), but in regard to marriage, let’s just say that things did not go according to plan.

Behind these two simple sentences lies a colossal and complex network of emotions that I would rather not have had to deal with. I still have to deal with it on occasion, even though I wish I didn’t have to.

I don’t have my white picket fence. Now, given that I dreamt of having this ‘fence’ my whole life, practically, it’s a really hard dream to reconstruct. I could go on and on about the fact that even when I thought I had my nice white picket fence, I actually didn’t (as I know now). But my aim today isn’t to pit my former married life against my current divorced life to try and figure out which was/is more virtuous.

My aim is to simply say that things just don’t go as planned sometimes. For whatever reason.  The bottom line is that, at some point, one needs to move on. This is impossible to do, though, without first accepting the fact that life just happens sometimes. Happens to the best of us.

This post isn’t about what ‘accepting’ it means, either, because acceptance will play out differently for each person. For some, it might mean the end of a marriage; for others, it might mean a new beginning within a troubled marriage. And for some, it might mean something else.

The point is to get moving. Fight your darndest not to get stuck in a rut of bitterness and inertia. Move on.

It’s the difference between being a running brook and a stagnant pool. After this occurred to me, I did a minute of quick and dirty research on the difference between these two kinds of water bodies. Stagnant water provides a better incubator for bacteria and parasites (contaminated as it usually is with feces and other stuff – ewww …). In running water, fish can simply wait for their food to be delivered (through the movement of the water), while in stagnant water, the fish need to go in search for their food. Moving water absorbs more oxygen than stagnant water, and attracts fewer insects.

I’ll take the running brook any day.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

When you feel like you can’t go on, you can (Lesson #6)

Yes, you can. You’re almost there. You can do it. It’s ALL IN YOUR MIND: Your legs aren’t hurting anymore and you’re breathing comfortably. So, what’s your excuse, really? Why not just go on until the end? It doesn’t even hurt anymore; it’s just a little inconvenient, that’s all. You’ll feel so good at the end.

This is how I had to psyche myself this morning as I jogged for 30-minutes non-stop for the second time in my life. This is how I’ve had to psyche myself in the past when I was only jogging for 15 or 20 minutes. I seem to have to do this every time I get on the treadmill, frankly.

I can do so much more than I think I can. A part of me knows that for sure. Still, another part of me isn’t so confident about this all the time. But since I want to be able to jog regularly for a certain amount of time, I try to just keep going, even when my mind tells me I can’t.

It’s really remarkable, this battle between the mind and everything else. I tell myself that I just need to train/re-train my mind. Thinking I can’t jog for up to 30 minutes is simply not rational, given that I’ve done it before. Plus, I’ve been jogging for up to 20 minutes non-stop for what seems like forever now, so adding on an extra 10 minutes really isn’t that bad. The idea that I can’t do it again this week is a complete illusion. Of course, I can! But the mind plays tricks on one if one lets it.

At church, we once had a pastor talk about ‘The Battle of the Middle’ (I think that was the title of the sermon). One of the things she said that stayed with me was that we’re often tempted to go back to where we came from once we’ve reached the middle of our journey. We feel like we can’t possibly cover any more ground. What we tend to forget, though, is that it takes the same amount of energy, will-power, resources, etc., to go all the way back as it does to go forward and get to the end! I’ve never forgotten that. Why not just move ahead, then?

One of the things that help me when I want to give up (in jogging and in life) is prayer. This morning, for instance, I prayed for the first 15 minutes of the jog. For some reason, it really seems to make the time go by so much faster. I have a half a million different prayer points, and so I find that praying is an easy way to plough through 15-20 minutes. The concentration it requires helps keep my eyes off of how much further I have to go.

In my life in general, I have a lot of good days as well as my share of ‘bad’ days when I feel like hibernating for a season and not having to face the world – times when I feel like I’m fighting The Battle of the Middle. Because I have a pretty even-keeled personality, I always have this need to figure out what triggered my mood change when this does happen. More often than not, it’s nothing more than the fact that it’s that time of the month when I get cranky, start to feel all hormonal, and molehills start to seem like mountains. Sometimes, though, I’m simply having a less-than-stellar day due to something that occurred recently. Stuff happens. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to get out of bed. But once I do and my activity-filled day begins, that desire completely dissipates. Sometimes, the enormity of the responsibilities I carry weighs on me. I get home after a hard day’s work and feel like I don’t have anything else to give. I am totally spent and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep it all up. But a good night’s sleep works absolute miracles (at least for me). My experience has been that no matter what happened the day before, everything seems better in the morning.

I suppose in some ways, I’m ‘in the middle’ when it comes to my divorce. While there’s no temptation to head back to where I came from, there is a temptation sometimes to just hang around in one spot and be passive about moving even further ahead. But deep down inside, I know there’s no way I can give up. What for? Everything looks better in the morning.

Yes, you can! You can do it. You’re doing it. You’ve done it forever and you’ve always done it well. It’s ALL IN YOUR MIND: You have years of experience doing this. The only difference is that you’re not married anymore. So why not just go on until the end? It hardly even hurts that much anymore; it’s just inconvenient sometimes, that’s all. You’ll feel so good at the end …

p.s. – Forgot to mention that I skipped Lesson #5 as I had nothing to say.