Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Cutting Loose

I was looking for something in my purse without success on Monday. I searched three times and then decided to dump everything out. I came across an envelope and opened it to find – to my surprise – four health insurance cards. They were old health insurance cards which expired two years ago. Typically, I cut up my old insurance cards, so I was wondering how these ones had escaped my attention for two good years. I also noticed that there were four of them, representing what used to be my family of four.

I stared at them and the memories of how I went from four cards two years ago to three cards today came back. I sifted through my emails to reconstruct the pathway that got me here and confirm the dates of each critical incident along the way. This all started with a retirement account:

August 6, 2009: I email HR to find out if I can list my sisters, rather than my spouse, as the primary beneficiaries of my retirement account in case anything happens to me. I am informed that in order to do so, my spouse would have to waive his rights to being the primary beneficiary by signing the ‘spousal consent’ section of the retirement account form. I brace myself and prepare to have this difficult conversation with him. If anything happens to me, my sisters would know exactly what I want for my children (we’re very similar when it comes to what we want for our children, what we think is best for children in general, and how we raise ours), and they’re all so good with money management.

August 7, 2009 (I think): I discuss my plans (about the retirement account changes) with my spouse on the phone. He expresses displeasure. I sense that his displeasure is not about the money per se, but rather about the fact that my actions are a major indication that the relationship is over (access to a partner’s finances can be such a deep sign of intimacy).

August 17, 2009: My spouse sends me an electronic copy of a signed ‘spousal consent’ section. I am very relieved. Relieved that I got it without any major hoopla, and almost proud of his attitude.

November 23, 2010: I email HR to find out if it’ll cost me less to have three members of my family (me and two children) covered by my health insurance rather than four (me, two children, and a husband). I’m told it’ll cost me exactly the same amount, whether we’re a party of three or a party of four. I chicken out from severing this tie with my spouse, reasoning that it’s not costing me anything to just keep things as they are. What if he got sick where he was (God forbid.)? Wouldn’t it be nice for him to be able to come over here and have his health taken care of? Why was I being ‘wicked’? What did I stand to gain from this?

In the weeks to come, I wrestle with this issue. I come to the conclusion that I really shouldn’t spend all this energy trying to take care of someone who didn’t seem to be making any effort to take care of me or our children.

Still, I wait another year before making a move.

December 8, 2011: I email HR asking them to drop my spouse from my medical and dental coverage.

December 9, 2011: They reply saying they will process my request, and that this change will be effective as from January 1, 2012. They remind me that the amount deducted from my salary for this new arrangement will still be the same.  I breathe in and out deeply to try and push down the pangs of guilt.

April 15, 2013: It was about a year and a half later this Monday. The guilt is gone. It must have left long before now – I just haven’t had an opportunity to think about this particular issue in a long time. And he has risen to the occasion. Although he’s had his share of illnesses since December 2011, he has somehow sorted himself out.

The issue, though, was never that he wasn’t capable of doing so. It was that he just didn’t (or wouldn’t). I would like to believe that, in the end, I helped both of us by making this tough decision.

On Monday, April 15, 2013, I reached for the pair of scissors on my desk, cut up the four cards into little pieces, and disposed of them in the bin.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A Teachable Moment

As I huffed and puffed and got my workout in this morning, my daughter watched me patiently and said with a hopeful look in her big, beautiful eyes: ‘I wish I could have waffles for breakfast.’

And since I’m the Good Fairy, I thought about whether I could make this happen or not. I don’t remember the last time I saw my waffle maker. I wonder if I still have one. Did I ever really have one?? If so, it must be hidden at the back of one of those kitchen cabinets. So we reached a compromise and agreed that I could make pancakes instead.

We mixed the batter together and then I stood in front of the stove, flipping one pancake after the other, while she sat at the counter, munching on the first one.

Out of the blue, she said with puzzlement in her voice: ‘I don’t get it. Why don’t animals read the Bible?’

I hesitated for a moment, and looked over my shoulder at her, wanting to make sure I heard her correctly. Then I started cracking up! (Have human beings finished reading the Bible for animals to now come and start reading?) I must have laughed for a good minute right from my belly.  She stared back at me with an earnest look in those big, beautiful eyes, and so I fought to regain my composure.

‘How do you know animals don’t read the Bible?’ I asked, stifling a giggle.

‘I just noticed,’ she replied.

‘Have you noticed animals don’t read, period?’

She thought about it for a second. ‘Yeah …’

‘Why do you think they should read, though?’ I asked, wondering what all this was about.

‘Well, if they don’t read the Bible, how are they supposed to know how to get to Heaven?’

Good point! I thought to myself.

‘I don’t think animals need to worry about that,’ I said, flipping another pancake over.

She thought about this for a moment. As I type this, I now wonder if she was worried about her dead gold fish. Most likely. She did mention yesterday that during Science class, the teacher showed them the heart of a dead fish, and this made her remember Dory and Sam (

‘I was just wondering,’ she said, ‘If God created Heaven for us and the animals, who did He create hell for?’

Hmm! This was getting ‘deep’ now.

‘Who told you God created Heaven for us and the animals?’ I asked, wondering if this was a new Sunday School theme in her class.

‘No one. I just guessed.’

‘Well,’ I began carefully, ‘Who did God create hell for? Certainly not for the animals, who aren’t capable of making a decision about whether they want God in their lives or not.’ I was dissatisfied with my own weak answer, but didn’t feel like I needed to break things down any further.

She thought about this for a moment.

‘If God created Heaven for us and the animals, why did He create hell for us and not the animals, too?’


I paused for a moment and wondered: Should I go into the intricacies of Christine doctrine – the fall of man, redemption through Christ, salvation by grace through faith, free will, etc.?


As I type this, I’m cracking my brain, trying to remember what response I gave her that she found satisfactory. I honestly can’t recall right now. Whatever it was, let’s just say I was #stumped, people!

If you have any age-appropriate answers for a kindergartner, puh-LEEZE share.

Maybe I missed an opportunity to teach my daughter some deep stuff – I don’t know. I’m sure there’ll be many more opportunities, by God’s grace. Our conversation this morning reinforced certain lessons and reflection points for me, though:

  1. God cares about the animals. Last month, this occurred to me when I read something in Jonah 4:11, where God said: ‘But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’
  2. If God cares about the animals, then He sure cares about me. Nuff said.
  3. I need to be more conscious of Heaven … and of hell.
  4. Critical-thinking skills rock. My daughter’s critical-thinking skills displayed this morning made me marvel and made me proud. I think God is proud when we think critically, too. God’s decision to create human beings (and not robots) was a deliberate one. And He has all the answers we need.
  5. If I consider myself a Christian, I really do need to read the Bible to get information on how to live.
  6. I have not read my Bible today. I’ve worked out, made breakfast, had breakfast, taken a shower, talked to my children, checked and responded to email, and blogged this morning. No Bible-reading yet. I’ll get to it, Lord, I promise – right after I post this.
In conclusion, have I ever mentioned my daughter is a little chatterbox?

She chattered to herself all the while as I typed this up. As I finished up this post, her voice rang out at me with her millionth question of the morning:

‘Mommy? How come your eyebrows never get tangled?’

(She had just finished doing her hair. She also has had some sort of weird eyebrow fetish since she was a toddler. She strokes one eyebrow when she’s about to fall asleep.)

How will the answer to this question enhance your life? I wondered internally.

At least I had an immediate answer for this question. Out loud, I said: ‘Because our eyebrows are much thinner than the hair on our heads, so our eyebrows can’t really get tangled.’

She thought about this for a moment, and then replied, satisfied:


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Random niceties

I can live for two months on a good compliment.

---- Mark Twain

Someone sent me a sweet text message last week.

“I must say you are indeed a wonderful person. Thanks so much for giving me your attention.”

Okay, looking at it now almost a week later, maybe it wasn’t ‘out of this world,’ but the gesture meant a lot to me and the message warmed my heart. Partly because it was unexpected and partly because this is someone I really admire and I honestly didn’t see spending a chunk of my time on her project as a big deal.

And then my son got back from a 10-day school field trip yesterday. He came into my room with a wrapped present – for me! I was so, so touched and took it, protesting about his spending his pocket money on a random gift when it was meant for purchasing other things while on the trip.

My heart melted and my eyes welled up with tears after I’d opened up the wrapping paper and discovered what the gift was:

A jewelry box!

A beautiful, glossy jewelry box with two exotic birds painted on it, perched on a tree. A jewelry box with a sharp mirror on the inside and a good deal of space in there for most of my earrings!

I was beyond shocked. I marveled at his good taste – and at the fact that he knew me so well! I asked him how come, out of everything he could’ve chosen as a gift, he chose this. He replied that he noticed my old jewelry box was ‘sort of ghetto.’

Excuse me? Can you imagine?

He was right, though, so we had a good laugh about that and I gave him a big hug. We talked for about 20 minutes about the trip, and then I shooed him into the bathroom to take a shower and scrub himself thoroughly with a wash cloth. He was reeking. (Don’t these teenagers take baths on field trips?)

As he sang in the shower, I transferred my pieces of jewelry to their new home: two necklaces (which I neither notice nor wear), lots of earrings, and my wedding ring.

He mentioned he bought a gift for his sister, too. It turned out to be a cute, immaculate white stuffed animal-cum-pencil case/purse thingy. It’s a polar bear. Too cute! Let’s just say I was blessed that he remembered us in this way – and so was my daughter.

All this got me thinking of The Five Love Languages identified by renowned marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman. Turns out that this is another one of my books that has disappeared into thin air. So I got online and was pleasantly surprised to find that you can take a short, 5-minute test to identify your primary love language right here:

The website explains that “The Love Language Profile … will give you a thorough analysis of your emotional communication preference. It will single out your primary love language, what it means, and how you can use it to connect with those closest to you and effectively enhance the relationships in your life.” It continues: “When we think of love languages, our immediate thought may be of a romantic relationship. However, we express love and affection in a variety of contexts and relationships. As you work through the profile, think of a significant person with whom you are close: a boyfriend or girlfriend, a good friend, a parent, a colleague, etc.”

The 5 Love Languages in alphabetical order are as follows:

  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Words of Affirmation
At the end of my test, my primary love language turned out to be (surprise, surprise): Words of Affirmation.

It was fun for me to see how I’ve changed since I bought The Five Love Languages book in my first year of marriage. Back then, I remember there being a close tie between ‘Words of Affirmation’ and ‘Acts of Service.’ Today, ‘Acts of Service’ came 4th out of the five languages. That was really interesting to me, and I wondered if it had to do with the fact that I’ve done so much on my own for so many years that ‘Acts of Service’ as a love language is just less relevant.

So I’ve changed and I haven’t changed. I’m still a sucker for words. Words of affirmation.

What about you? What’s your primary love language?

Don’t be shy – do tell!

The Elephant in the Room

Written on April 8, 2013, but posted today since the transformer in my neighborhood blew out/up and I still have no electricity!!

I got an email message from my sister just before 1 pm today. The subject title read “Rick Warren’s son.” My heart sank ever before I read the actual message. I’ve never read any of the best-selling Purpose-Driven Life books, but I’m a Rick Warren fan. I get his brief devotionals electronically each day. In fact, one of them popped in my inbox a few minutes before I received my sister’s email. His simplicity comes through in these devotionals and I really like the way he demystifies the Christian walk with his simple teachings. Although I haven’t read his books, like most of the world, I’m aware that in 2005, he returned the salary he had earned over the last quarter of a century to the church that he pastors and subsequently stopped receiving a salary. I read on Wikepedia that he and his wife are now ‘reverse tithers’ – meaning they give away 90% of their income and live off 10%.

When I saw my sister’s email come in, I braced myself for bad news. We all usually try to give our children our best, having no idea what they will give us in return. What could it be? What is it now? I wondered. Drugs? An arrest?

Her message read: “27 – committed suicide. He shot himself – he had suffered from mental illness and depression.”

I was shocked and saddened beyond words about Matthew Warren’s suicide. Who knew that the son of this world-renowned pastor struggled with this serious health issue?

His parents, Rick and Kay Warren, were so gracious in their account of their son’s struggles – gracious and simple. One news article reports the following: “After a ‘fun evening’ as a family, Warren said his son took his life ‘in a momentary wave of despair at his home.’ Warren said he marveled at his son’s courage to keep on living in his darkest moments despite his pain. ‘I’ll never forget how, many years ago, after another approach had failed to give relief, Matthew said, ‘Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?’ Warren wrote. ‘But he kept going for another decade.’” (

At the beginning of this year, someone I know of that has the same sort of health struggle tried to describe to me what it’s like. What it’s like to be a devout Christian physician – a consultant psychiatrist at that – while living with clinical depression herself. How debilitating it can be. How frustrating it can be to look and seem “highly functional” to everyone else (You have a medical degree, after all, so how can anything be ‘wrong with you’?), and yet feel like you are simply unable to cope with life sometimes, to get out of bed even. How you begin to keep this reality to yourself after a while – especially when your diagnosis becomes cause for suspicion among your fellow Christians: Have you really prayed about this thing? Have you gone for deliverance? How much have you really fasted about this? Whatsoever you allow on earth shall be allowed in Heaven – why are you ‘allowing’ this?

I understood completely. Well, not ‘completely,’ as I cannot claim to know what it’s like to live with mental illness. But I do know what it’s like to sincerely believe God heals (whether it’s a physical or emotional health issue, for instance, or a marriage) , while not necessarily experiencing that healing in certain areas of my own life, for whatever reason. And then what it’s like to be questioned for making peace with things the way they are – even if that wasn’t how I originally wanted them to be.   

It’s interesting to me how, even among many of our health professionals in Africa, mental health issues are often the furthest thing from our minds – even when they are staring us in the face. We tend to think of this particular health issue in extremes: if you haven’t completely stripped and made a concerted effort to “enter the market,” then there’s no way you could have some sort of mental health challenge.

My sister says I’m always trying to “diagnose” people, and that not everything boils down to mental health. Some people are just plain mean (for instance), and that’s that. I don’t disagree. I just don’t think that’s all there is to the story. I would argue that a considerable proportion of our relationships are the worse for this sort of mentality. Many mental health issues simply go under the radar, resulting in situations where there are seemingly no solutions. If you can’t get down to the root of the problem, after all, everything else you try to do is a waste of time.

I wish we could talk more openly about this issue. Not for the sake of talking. But so that the understanding, compassion, and strategies required to deal with the issue are available – both for the sufferers, and for their families and loved ones who suffer along with them, oftentimes having no clue what is really going on.

As stunned as I am by Matthew Warren’s death, I’m impressed by his ability to acknowledge his own health challenge and to keep on seeking care for it, when he was alive. I am glad that at least he had parents and a family that took the time to understand his illness and that helped him live with it until the age of almost 30. I’m also impressed with how they are handling this tragedy. How, through it all, they are still simply grateful for the life of this child that they were privileged to parent.

We don’t always know the answers. It’s not always about a deliverance prayer/session. Some things only come out by fasting and prayer … and some things (for whatever reason) simply don’t ‘come out.’ And when they don’t – if they don’t – where does that leave us, if we have built our faith on the idea that things must turn out exactly the way we’ve planned?  

My first words to my sister in response to her email were: Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. This life!

And then, after a few minutes of reflection, and of seeing how Rick Warren was responding to this tragedy through his tweets and via news articles online, I wrote back to her, saying: “A Christian walk is a Christian walk. It helps make the inexplicable bearable.”

I clicked ‘send’ and the following words came to me:

Our God is able to save us, but even if He does not …

I looked it up to remind myself of exactly what Daniel 3: 17-18 says in the NIV:

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.

God help us all.