You Were Made For More!

It was a few months to the KCPE exams. The obligatory family prayers were organized to solicit divine assistance for the beloved candidate. At some point during the event, the grizzled, wise grandpa pulled aside the young student for a chat. He asked him what he was planning to do after he passed his exams. The bright, young boy answered without hesitation, ‘I want to get accepted into a prestigious national school’.

grandpa‘And then what?’ asked grandpa. ‘Well, then I’ll work hard in high school, pass all my exams and go to a prestigious college for a business degree. After that I’ll start a business and make a lot of money!’

Undeterred, grandpa asked again; ‘and then what?’ ‘Well, I’ll buy a good house, drive a brand new German car and get married to a beautiful lady. We’ll have three children, and we’ll take them to the best schools so that they can also be successful’.

As more gathered to listen in on the conversation, grandpa asked yet again, ‘and then what?’ ‘Hmmm, and then I’ll make a lot of money and become very famous. I’ll win many awards and recognitions. I’ll be on TV all the time. And then my wife and I will retire, play golf every day and see the world. Once in a while, we’ll visit our children and their families and they can also visit us in our big house when we’re old’

With a twinkle in his eye, grandpa persisted, ‘and then what?’ ‘What else is there to do?’ the flustered boy asked. ‘We’ll grow old together with my wife and one day we’ll die!’

‘And then what?’, asked grandpa smiling gently. This time the young man scratched his head and was silent. He really didn’t have an answer.

createdThe old man’s point of course was that there is more to life than being born, making money, having a family and then dying. As an old preacher said, ‘we were not just created to be hatched, matched and dispatched’! There is much more to life – there is a God-designed purpose in each of us that we were created for.

Your passions, personality, abilities and experiences, both good and bad, are clues about what you are uniquely gifted to accomplish. Your purpose is not just to make you comfortable but to impact others and to leave this world a better place than you found it.

As Paul of Tarsus wrote almost 2000 years ago, ‘we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago’ (Ephesians 2:10)

So by all means, be ambitious. Excel at what you do. Aim for the stars! But in the process, don’t loose sight of the fact that your life is not a random accident. There’s a unique role you were created for. And you owe it to yourself to discover what it is.

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Why Marriage May Not Be For You!

After 20 years of marriage, I’m convinced that marriage isn’t for me! Before you jump to conclusions, please read on.

weddingBack in the day, finding a spouse was not a complex proposition. Your folks shortlisted the suitable candidates and chose the one who’s family was most complimentary to theirs. Complex terms like love and personal choice were not part of the equation! But in our very different world, many people struggle with the question of how to locate the One. “What if I end up with someone who makes me miserable?” The result? Commitment phobic people who are mortally afraid of entering marriage because of the misery they fear it might cause them. And subsequently after marriage when the going gets tough, many end up convinced that their unhappiness is because they made a mistake and married the wrong person!

Recently, I read an article by author Seth Adam Smith who made the same discovery I made when I faced the same fears, years ago. His commitment-phobia came to a head as he was planning his engagement to his high school sweetheart and best friend. Was he ready? Was this the right person to marry? Would she make him happy?

wedding 2In his confusion, he decided to confide in his dad about his fears. His dad’s response floored him. Instead of empathizing with him, he told him that he was being totally selfish because marriage was not for him. “You don’t marry to make yourself happy; you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

Seth’s blog post received 2 million views in 36 hours and when I last looked, that had jumped to 24 million. As countercultural as his message was in our culture today, it evidently struck a cord. You can read his original article here.

wedding 3One of the biggest problems in our lives today is caused by our expectation that the people around us are there to make us happy. Life is after all, the pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s our spouse, our friends, our boss, or our workmates, we only want to hang out only with people who contribute to our personal bliss. But this is a selfish extractive approach that is based on not on what I give to others but on what I can get from them. It turns us into net consumers and not net contributors.

So the next time you find yourself wondering if you married the right person, turn the question round and ask ‘how can I be the right person for the person I married?’

Celebrating Fathers

commercialism2I’m not always sure I know what to do with the different imported holidays that have become fixtures on our calendar. Valentines Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and so on have gained such prominence you’d almost think they were national public holidays! Even Chinese New Year and Halloween have seem to have gained their small (and markedly elite) groups of followers here! All these are clearly indicators of the globalized world we live in. They are also great opportunities for retailers to create demand for goods we don’t really need!

All that said though, I do believe if any of these holidays would be a good candidate for global public holidays, Father’s Day would be it. Celebrated widely on the third Sunday of June, it was first declared a public holiday in the US by president Woodrow Wilson in 1972, 58 years after Mothers day became a public holiday. Clearly, fathers don’t have the same sentimental appeal that mothers do!

In today’s world, men are often seen as the villain – and it is certainly the case that men are often the cause of great pain in the lives of their spouses and children. When I visit our various prisons, I find that most inmates had a poor or no relationship with a father figure. Abusive, passive or absent fathers are the cause of much societal destruction in our nation.

father's loveWhich is all the more reason we must celebrate those men who are doing their best to be good husbands and fathers! It’s much more effective to applaud good deeds and examples than to bile about or simply ignore the bad ones. Because it’s true that you get what you celebrate. Let’s celebrate even those who haven’t done as well for whatever little they did right!

It’s not easy to be a dad in today’s world. Most men have few examples of what good fatherhood should look like. My friend, pastor Simon Mbevi, runs a class called ‘Man Enough’ that teaches men their role in family and society. I’m always amazed at how valuable the experience is to the many who take it.

fatherAnd so here’s to all those fathers out there who are working hard to provide for their children. Here’s to all the baby daddies who at least make an effort to visit their children regularly. Here’s to the single fathers who have chosen to faithfully bring up their children (I know quite a few remarkable ones!) Here’s to those men who are seeking to develop a relationship with their kids even though they didn’t have one with their own fathers. Here’s to those guys who take their kids to church because they want them to grow up with good morals. Here’s to those who are passionate to see their kids have what they didn’t have when they were growing up.

To all those fathers out there, I say to you, Happy Fathers Day!

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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!

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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!

Every Child Is Gifted!

pharmacistWhen I was in high school, my heartfelt ambition and desire was to be a pharmacist. I still remember the day when that idea was planted into my mind. My dad was driving me back to boarding school after the holidays and I asked him what career choice could make someone rich as quickly as possible. Absentmindedly, he mentioned that a couple of his richest friends were pharmacists. Unknown to him, he had just set my career direction for the next few years! All my subject choices thereafter were made with this goal in mind, to become a rich pharmacist.

education2How did you end up deciding what to do as a career? Few of us as children had someone thoughtfully guide us in our future career choices. Instead, the choices were made for us through what some family member thought would provide the greatest financial security, or through other random acts of fate. Many of my friends in my university days had little passion for the degree course they were studying. In fact, our street translation of the acronym BA (Bachelor of Arts) was ‘Baba Amenituma’, which means ‘my dad sent me’. This was because many were in school studying subjects that only their parents thought were important!

The unfortunate result of poor or no career guidance is many frustrated young graduates who enter careers they have little passion for or interest in. They dread going to work on Mondays and heave a huge sigh of relief every Friday! Along with those are thousands of others who have not been able to get a job in their area of training and yet are unable to translate their years of learning into solutions for societal problems around which they can build a business. As one wise man put it to me, we are a nation of schooled people who are highly uneducated!

wayne rooneyMany parents are unwitting accomplices in creating this problem. We stress our children to get A’s in their exams creating the impression that children who are not academically gifted are failures in life. And yet every child, including those not academically inclined, has innate talents and strengths that can help them uniquely succeed in life. Wayne Rooney, Juliani and Eric Omondi are great examples that today, you don’t have to become a medical doctor to have great impact on people and culture, and to create wealth in the process!

educationThis last week, 840,000 primary school students across the country sat for their KCPE exams. Many of them did so with fear, based on the knowledge that their final grade will have a significant bearing on the way their lives turn out. I want to challenge all parents, uncles, aunties and teachers reading this. Let’s definitely encourage the candidates to do their best. But even as they do so, let’s affirm and encourage development of their innate God-given talents.

Every child is uniquely gifted to be a success in life. They only need to find someone who believes in them and calls out that gifting!

Parental Advisory

tantrum1It was a moment that saved our life. My then girlfriend and I were visiting a young couple with a rather hyperactive six-year old daughter who was prone to throwing tantrums at a moment’s notice. True to form, just as we were getting into our conversation, the little girl began to raise her voice demanding attention, and the atmosphere began to tense up. But this time, the outcome was completely different from what had come to expect. Her dad looked her in the eye and said a single word calmly and with authority, ‘No!’. To our amazement, with no more incentive beyond that, the little girl immediately calmed down and the rest of the evening was spent pleasantly catching up with her parents.

Welcome to the complex world of parenting today! Many in my generation grew up in traditional homes where children were meant to be seen, not heard. Parents ruled their home with an iron fist and punishment was regularly meted on offenders with belts, slippers and in some cases slaps and even more extreme measures. Open disobedience was unimaginable and parents were feared and obeyed unquestioningly. This model in a better form had actually worked well for generations. But in an urban setting without supportive extended family structures, it broke down and more likely isolated children from their parents. It often became abusive in the hands of parents who were ill-equipped to bring up children in the new setting of the city.

tantrum2Much of today’s parenting practice is a reaction against the negative extremes of traditional parenting. Starting in the 60’s and 70’s, many parents in the West stopped depending on age-old techniques and wisdom to bring up their children but instead began relying on the teachings of modern psychology with its focus on self-esteem. As usual with time, these trends made their way here. But clearly, they too have their shortcomings. Who has not witnessed that child screaming as they demand something from their embarrassed parent in the supermarket aisle? Or had a panic attack when your friends mentioned they want to pass by your house with their not so well behaved children? The modern ideal of busy working parents who delegate almost all of the upbringing of their children to maids and drivers has only served to complicate the matter. The result of modern parenting techniques is pampered, insecure, demanding, out-of-control children with short attention spans and a sense of entitlement.

airplane2I must at this point confess that my inspiration to write this article came out of serious annoyance and sleep deprivation! I was on board a long flight in a Boeing A777 cabin where ninety adults were kept forcefully awake for several hours by two screaming toddlers whose mothers seemed unable to control them. Whereas in the past parents may have tyrannized their children, today, it is the kids who tyrannize adults!

The problem with children is that they don’t come with instructions. And yet how we bring up our children is extremely important not just for the future of the home but that of our nation.This sacred duty has huge, generational consequences and yet few people study or prepare for it. The good book in Proverbs 22:6 encourages us to ‘direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it‘. But how exactly should we do this?

An important part of that answer is understanding the end result. What is the goal of raising our children? If we’re raising them to depend on us, then we are ensuring they will never succeed in life. As one of my friends used to say, children come into the world disorganized and parents have the option of either entering into their disorganization or organizing them and preparing them for an adult world. All parenting must bear in mind that we are equipping our children to be independent, productive citizens who live purposeful, value-based lives that positively impact others.

Back to the moment that saved our lives! What we learnt that day at our friend’s house is that parent’s can learn how to train their children effectively. Ourfamily2 friends shared that they had taken a class that had changed their approach to parenting. The results were so apparent that we decided that when we had our own children, we too would take that class. Several years later, we did, and have never regretted it since. Neither have our kids!

This month at Mavuno Church, Pastors Oscar & Beatrice Muriu of Nairobi Chapel will be sharing secrets they’ve learnt about this critical topic. They will be speaking candidly from their successes and failures about how to prepare our children for modern day realities. Whether you are an actual parent or a potential one in the making, you owe it to yourself to make sure all your friends, colleagues and relatives are there with you. The fate of our homes and nation may well depend on it 🙂