True Love Is Not What We Thought!

To commemorate 20 great years since I married my college sweetheart, I took some time this week to think through some of lessons that I’ve learnt about marriage. The biggest one is that the pathway to love is not what we thought it was! Let me explain…

 attractedTwenty plus years ago, like any typical dating couple, we did some rather unconventional things! Have you ever seen a guy outside a dress shop carrying a ladies handbag as the girl he loves looks at and even tries out different outfits? That was me. Little did she know then that I hate window-shopping! She was no different; she sat with my friends and watched the rugby games I played in. Little did I know that watching sports was not on her top one hundred favorite things!

 A big complaint in marriages today is that people no longer feel the same way about each other as they did when dating. Or do the same things. Somehow, they figure, the love must have run out along the way.

 The problem however is in our definition of love. If you ask people what love is, you’ll get definitions that have to do with feelings – like ‘love is holding her hand and feeling your heart skip a beat’, or ‘love is gazing tenderly into his eyes’. Or as one person put it, ‘love is a feeling you feel when you feel that your are about to feel a feeling that you’ve never felt before’!

christmas4But the bible’s definition is radically different! As 1 Corinthians 13 (the famous ‘love chapter’) says ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’

 Have you noticed none of these things are ‘fun’ or ‘romantic’? Love is a dramatic action of giving despite my feelings. And the only way I can offer such unconditional love is because I have experienced the same love from my heavenly Father!

 true intimacyThe interesting thing is that as we begin to embrace God’s definition of love – something begins to happen in our marriage. We stop trying to turn the other person into something they’re not. We accept them as flawed people who have been loved by God. And they accept us too in the same way. And true love begins to flourish, in the only atmosphere it can – one of kindness, forgiveness and acceptance.

So… you need to determine even before you begin the journey together that divorce is not an option. I like a bumper sticker I saw once that read, ‘be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet!’ Don’t be fooled; every marriage faces problems. But the paradox is that it’s only as we allow God to use us to bless the other person regardless of how we feel, that we eventually find fulfillment, joint purpose and true intimacy with our partner.

Okay, I need to say this…

I truly love you Carol. You are my lover, helpmate, partner, fellow dreamer, co-creator, mother of our lovely children and purpose companion. The last twenty years have been more than incredible and I’m amazed at God’s genius in giving me you. May the next 20 be even more awesome! Also, I hid this little nugget deep in the post to see if you’d read it till the end 🙂

Where was I? Oh yes, we’ve even written a couple of books together based on the lessons we’ve learnt in our relationship and marriage! ‘Ndoa’ is a ten-week course for couples preparing for marriage, or for already marrieds who want to strengthen their foundation. ‘Finders Keepers’ helps you figure out how to find and keep the love of a lifetime. You can get any of these from the bookstore at any of the Mavuno campuses.

True love was not what we thought it was; it turned out to be much harder but ultimately much sweeter. God bless!

An Easter Story

single momThey were brought up by their mother. She worked long hours to ensure they ate well. In the evenings after a hard day at work, she pushed them to do their homework and taught them to believe in themselves. You see, their dad had abandoned her when they were young. He just took off one day and went to live with a younger woman. He never visited them. Singlehandedly and painstakingly, mom had brought them up and now they were all successful professionals.
medicineThat’s why it seemed like poetic justice when they heard that their dad was now jobless, broke and sick in hospital, abandoned by the other woman. Their reaction was ‘serves him right!’ But guess what their mom did next? She left everything in Nairobi and went where he was. There, she used her retirement money to pay the hospital bills and spent the next couple of years nursing and caring for him until he passed away.

As my friend shared about his family, I thought, ‘how unfair is that?’ It sounded completely warped to me that the one who was wronged against would end up being the one who paid to fix things up. Either there was something really messed up about this woman, or there was something extremely good and right! When I met her some time later, I confirmed the latter. She is a confident, attractive and likable woman with a kind heart and strong faith. There was not a trace of bitterness in her voice as she spoke about her husband. I greatly admired her strength and selflessness!

 

three crosses bIn many ways, she reminded me of the Easter story. You see, at the cross, God took on the pain of the very people who had wronged Him. Instead of demanding that humans pay for what we had done, He paid with His own life. He took the consequences of our rebellion on Himself, creating the possibility of our going back to Him, and living the life that He originally created us for.

Yep, either very messed up or extremely good and right! As the good book says ‘by his wounds, we are healed’. Easter brings the possibility of healing from rejection, abuse and pain. Because of the cross, those painful memories that have scarred us in the past can become stories of hope and inspiration. Because of what God did, we can forgive those who have wronged us. And by doing so, we free ourselves from the spiral of bitterness and revenge.

As Gandhi is thought to have said, ‘an eye will only make the whole world blind’. This Easter, I pray that you will find the grace to treat those who have wronged you the way God treated you. And that in forgiveness you will find not only find freedom from bitterness, but strength to live the life you were created to live!

forgiveness

Sober Love Decisions

month of loveFebruary is the month of love. And love is such a beautiful thing! Scientists tell us that when you fall in love, chemicals called neutrophines and dopamines are released in your brain giving you a permanent high. Scientists have compared falling in love with taking heroin or having obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your ability to think straight is compromised! A haze comes over your eyes and you can only see the other person through your love-induced state.

That’s why you want to make some critical decisions before you fall in love. It’s a little like figuring out how you’ll get home before you sip that first drink. Most people already have already thought through what they absolutely can’t stand in a relationship. Ladies generally tend to have more substantial criteria, and will write off a guy who is constantly in debt, lives with his mom, or has a roving eye. Guys generally tend to focus more on what they see and have no time for a gal with bad breath, poor social poise or who doesn’t pay attention to her looks.

sober decisionsA major problem in relationships today though, is that we major on minor things and minor on major ones. That’s why our relationships keep blowing up over and over! Most people don’t know a real deal breaker when they see one. The dictionary defines a deal breaker as ‘any issue or factor that is significant enough to terminate a negotiation’. You need to figure out your deal breakers while you’re still sober, and not when you’re already love-high from a relationship!

Some of us have a loooong list of deal-breakers. “He must be taller than me so that I can get married in high heels.” “She must have nice long legs, and cook like my mom does”.  But in my new book ‘Finders Keepers: How To Find And Keep The One You Love’ (coming out this March), I describe the only two deal breakers that are critical if you are looking for love that lasts a lifetime.

money crazyThe first is a common authority. Each one of us has something or someone that serves as our ultimate reference point. Examples are money, career, self, or God. I’m not telling you what your ultimate authority needs to be. But for love to last a lifetime, you need to hook up with someone who subscribes to the same authority.

The second critical deal breaker has to do with passion. You need to connect with someone who values the things that are the most important to you. You may be in different professions but you need to share a bigger passion e.g. to mentor young people, to help poor communities, to preserve the environment, or to advocate for justice.

Do you want a love that lasts? Make the sober decision to only hook up with a person who fits these two criteria!

Remaking History

‘I had no idea when we got married that he would turn out to be abusive!’

crying womanJanice held her head in her hands as she sobbed. Her story was one I’d heard many times before. She had sworn she would never end up in the same situation as her mother – married to a physically and emotionally abusive man. When she met Jack soon after college, he was so attentive and caring, the complete opposite of her father. The first time he had hit her was several months into their marriage, and then he had apologized profusely and sworn never to do it again. But now, 4 years in, she was terrified of her husband and feared that the baby that she carried in her womb would become exactly like her.

Why does history repeat itself in relationships?

The reason is that people tend to attract people at the same level of emotional maturity as they are. It’s common to fantasize that when you finally meet Mr or Ms Right, they will fix you or make you a better person. But the reality is that a relationship only compounds the state it found you in! If you are lonely, you’ll attract another lonely person and each of you will demand that the other provide the companionship that they’re incapable of giving (that’s why they got married to you in the first place!)

attractedPut another way, you don’t attract what you want; you attract who you are! Clingy, desperate women tend to attract uncaring, insensitive men – and vice versa. The reason it’s not always obvious at first is that unhealthy people attract people with complimentary dysfunctions. For example, people with addictions tend to be (unconsciously) attracted to people who are co-dependent; saviors types who have a need to be needed. Unfortunately, your partner will not only not be able to help you, but they may actually oppose your healing because your remaining as you are meets their need!

The result? Two very dependent people, each working hard to ensure that their partner never changes because then their need might then not be met! This is like two patients with no doctor. Or two ticks with no dog. I know, that’s gross. Point I’m making is that you don’t want to end up there!

thinkingIf you don’t take time now to deal with issues from your past, they will only reappear in your relationships at a compounded level. If you don’t resolve that issue with your mom, deal with that rivalry with your sibling, or sort out that lack of trust that you have for others, it will only reappear ten times bigger in your marriage. It doesn’t matter what qualities you put on your list; you will only attract people like you. Only a whole person can attract another whole person!

The best thing you can do for yourself and for your spouse (present or future) this ‘month of love’ is commit to do whatever it takes this year to become the spiritually and emotionally whole person that God created you to be. History does not have to repeat itself!

Mate Selection Criteria

couple1What qualities should you look out for in an ideal potential spouse? For many ladies today, the answer includes things like self awareness, a visionary who knows where the relationship is going, commitment to the relationship, not a mama’s boy, good looking (because it has implications on future baby genetics), financial stability, taller than me, can relate well with my family, and so on.

Guys on the other hand generally tend to have a much shorter list for the ideal bachelorette. It seems to boil down to…a beautiful, humble woman who admires me, who will not expect me to read her mind or try to interpret her signals, and who will supply good and plentiful sex!

These are generalizations obviously. The point is that we all have a list of expectations about the ideal spouse. We are constantly on the lookout for Mr or Ms Right and when we encounter someone we like, we evaluate them against our inner criteria to see if they fit the bill. That’s why it’s common to hear women lamenting that they’re no good men left, or men complaining that women are too complicated!

Back in the day, things were much simpler. In a process that would make most headhunters today look like amateurs, parents shortlisted the candidates most likely to be compatible not just with their child but with the entire family. They conducted background checks, followed up the references, and delivered the candidate who best fit the bill.

criminal background check

Life today is a lot more complicated! With their only guidance coming from talk shows, magazines, and the internet, young people face the daunting task of single-handedly finding a spouse who will satisfy their needs, be good parents to their children and be faithful to the relationship! The high rates of divorce and infidelity in our culture testify to the fact that there’s a big problem with our mate selection criteria today.

What could the problem be? As a generation, we’ve grown up believing in the mantra ‘if it feels good, do it!’ Life is about the pursuit of happiness. We find a new job or leave our old one because of what we feel we’re getting from it. And we think the same way about marriage. We want a spouse who will make us happy and meet our needs.

searchingThe problem with this thinking is that it’s externally focused – it’s about looking for the right person and not about being the right person. When you finally meet the person of your dreams, then your only choice is manipulation. You have to keep pushing them to get what you want. You’ll only realize too late that you have transferred the responsibility for your joy, significance and self esteem to someone else. This is a burden we should never assign to another human being because they’re bound to disappoint.

The solution? You’ve heard it before… Stop focusing outward! Become the person who the person you’re looking for is looking for!

Christmas Traditions

christmas5Did you know that Jesus was most likely not born on December 25th?

The story behind this widely accepted date is a fascinating one. The most likely date of Christ’s birth is thought to have been in the autumn, around the time of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. The earliest records of a feast in honor of this birth are from a church in Alexandria, Egypt in 200AD, although the celebration only became widely accepted in the third and fourth centuries.

christmas6As early Christians spread across Roman Europe, they found widespread celebration of the feast celebrating the Roman god Saturn. In northern Europe, they were exposed to the Feast of Yule, a widespread solstice celebration for many tribes and clans. In the East, the Festival of the Invincible Sun was the major winter celebration. Along the way, in order to communicate their faith in a way that was relevant to the cultures they were in, they decided to take over these traditions and turn them into a celebration of Christ’s birth. The celebration thus moved into the winter season.

christmas10In the process, many customs and traditions associated with the older festivals became part of the Christian tradition. Many homes today still celebrate Christmas with decorations of evergreen wreaths, holly, and mistletoe, along with Christmas trees and colored lights. Santa Claus or Father Christmas, caroling throughout neighborhoods, exchanging presents, and attending parties are other ancient traditions assimilated into the celebration of Christ’s birth.

All these are examples of contextualization – which has been referred to by some as ‘the genius of the Christian faith’. Biblical faith should not force you to abandon your culture. Rather, it embraces the best parts of culture as having been placed there by God since creation as signposts to and indicators of God’s existence. Consequently, there is no culture that is superior to others. Each culture uniquely reflects the beauty of God’s creation!

Most churches in the East began observing the feast on January 6th while Western churches observed it on 25th of December. By the end of the fourth century however, almost all Christian churches had accepted the December date. It was not until the 11th Century, that the word ‘Christmas’ was first used, from the Old English phrase ‘Cristes Maesse’, which means “the Mass of Christ.”

christmas11Across the world, different cultures have added their own twist to Christmas celebrations. Coptic Christians in Ethiopia and Egypt celebrate Christmas on 7th of January. In India, they decorate banana or mango trees, while in Ghana, palm trees are laden with candles. In Finland, people visit graves of their relatives to light a candle on Christmas Eve.

christmas12In the Philippines, children leave their brightly polished shoes and washed socks on windowsills for the three kings to fill at night. In Ghana, Christmas dinner is not complete without fufu and okra soup while in Liberia, rice, beef and biscuits are what make it happen! Zimbabweans make sure they have plenty of bread, jam and tea to eat along with their goat meat.

christmas9In our own part of the world, the entire region literally shuts down for two weeks as people travel upcountry to celebrate with family members and loved ones. Matatu fares shoot up in the process, and malls and bars everywhere are filled with revelers. Churches throng with worshippers singing Christmas Carols. Goats and chickens are consumed in great numbers.

All this to celebrate the momentous life that changed history!

Reason For The Season

christmas1Wow, it’s so hard to believe that 2013 is almost over! The radio stations are filling the airwaves with Christmas Carols and the malls have put up their giant Christmas trees. Traffic is a lot more bearable because of the school holidays. Sale signs are everywhere, as retailers prepare for an influx of shoppers. For many companies, it’s that frantic time to complete work targets before the year ends. But despite that, there’s that feeling in the air that the Christmas holiday is almost here!

christmas2And so we enter what is a favorite time of the year for many. A time when our economy practically shuts down for two weeks so that Kenyans can travel upcountry and join family members in end-of-year festivities. A time when countless goats and chickens give up their lives to satiate the hunger of many who have toiled through the year for this moment. And bars across the nation stock up so as not to run dry before the pockets of their reveling patrons do!

As we prepare for the celebrations, it is appropriate that we pause for a moment to reflect on the reason for the season. Christmas is a celebration of the moment that divided history into two. According to the bible, an unprecedented event took place two thousand years ago in the nondescript village of Bethlehem, Judah. The creator intervened in human affairs by being born to a peasant family and then for thirty-three years lived among humans as one of us, sharing our tribulations and frailty, in order to demonstrate how He had originally intended for us to live.

christmas3Ultimately, Christmas is a celebration of God’s love. That humans are not alone in the universe. And that we have a Creator who cares enough for us to step down into our space, and to help us who cannot help ourselves.

In light of that, we have every reason to celebrate the Christmas season! By all means shop and eat and spend time with your loved ones. But an even more appropriate way to celebrate the season is by being a blessing to those who do not have what we have. In the same way that our Creator sacrificially gave to us, we too are called to give to others!

christmas4There are myriad ways to do this. You could as a family host a Christmas party for a children’s home. You could take in a foster child for a few weeks. You could visit and share supplies with spinal injury or cancer patients in your local hospital. You could give a year’s education scholarship to one of your worker’s children. The list is as long as your imagination!

We need to teach our children how to have an attitude of gratitude and not of entitlement. We need to teach them that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And Christmas is a great opportunity to do this.

I dare you to celebrate this Christmas season differently, and to be a blessing as you yourself have been blessed.