Hope… and Shaped Perspectives

 

For a long time I’ve known about personality tests. A colleague at work even recommended that I try one out. I just didn’t realize that there’s a whole system behind it – an institute, lessons, studies and even comprehensive logic behind each of the 9 personality types. The Enneagram of Personality. I was reading through an article by one of my favorite writers when I came across this and decided to finally look more into it, and a lot that she says resonates with me, now more than ever. Suffice to say, I did see parts of myself in The Peacemaker (P.S: Relating to this personality  type does not mean I ascribe  to the Enneagram vibe) and I have to agree that this showed me areas where God will always be at aggressive work in my life.

I tend to have a different way of working through the seasons of the year than some of my friends do. And just as it is for some, it is always October and not January, Fridays and not Mondays that feel like the start of something good. Not necessarily because great gains and grand plans discourage me. I just approach them with the extra care that is, in a way, meant to preserve things as they are and work with what I can already see. So I tend to do a lot of my yearly reflection, recalibration, scheduling, goal-setting and forward planning at the oddest season of the year 😀  Works differently for everyone, I guess.

Recently, a lot of my ‘structure’ has had to change. One such area is in my abilities, talents and skills. I have had to set new expectations for myself and keep up with a new kind of pace that cuts across my work, spirituality and relationships. I don’t believe I have to have all the answers to everyone’s problems, or that I can meet everyone’s expectations. What I believe though, is that I can do my best for each day that I’m alive. I have been taught to live one day at a time this month.

“The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived – not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.” ~Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me be a Woman

I am learning to pace myself, and not respond to everything immediately. To learn through things – everyday mistakes, people’s experiences, details that pop up at the most unexpected times, new discoveries and responsibilities that I have. We live in a fast-paced competitive world. The race to ‘achieve’ greater and bigger things could easily blur one’s focus and lead us to seek validation in the vainest things. The rate at which work emails come in remind me often enough, that we’re all being inundated with messages daily and we have to learn to navigate them as humans and have checks and balances in place. This month, I have been taught to approach communication purposefully, intentionally, and with awareness.

“The faithful performance of today’s humble task will enable me to accept tomorrow’s assignment.” A close friend recently said to me that life is good, and God requires today only the work of the day. And I agreed with her; the goodness of life is usually about our perspective and less about our circumstances. The willing mind, the earnest purpose, will go forward. He has promised grace according to our need, and that gives me hope. I had such a hard time facing the task ahead of me when I recently took up a new role. The shoes to fit in were big (still are) and I was second-guessing my ability to deliver, match up and soar. While having a chat with a workmate, she told me: “Ask yourself each morning who you’re doing this for, and why?” The answer to that compels me towards faithfulness, even in the performance of little duties. Clarity. This month, I have learned to take up the shoes of responsibility and wear them faithfully.

I have found more of friendship in the old ones than in the new ones. Being such a transient world, it’s much harder to hold onto friendships as I grow older. But I’ve grown to see that there’s purpose in that too. The older I grow the more I cling to the fewer friends I have, and I’m now allowing myself to patiently grow into new ones. To stop being a fickle, selfish lover. To be present and caring ESPECIALLY when it feels uncomfortable and inconveniencing. Granted, some will hit it off right off the bat. Others will not. And that’s okay. There’s beauty in that too. In October I learned to love differently.

I have found more of God in the quiet seasons than in the loud, ‘flowery’ seasons of my faith. More of faith in its absence than in its presence. I hope to say yes to a lot more than I have this month, to listen more and act more. To be more deliberate and faithful in the mundane as in the big tasks.  To keep growing out of my comfort zones. And to truly love. I learnt to affirm my ‘yes’ in October.

“Find a way to say ‘yes’ to things. Say yes to invitations to a new country, say yes to meet new friends, say yes to learn something new. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job, and your spouse, and even your kids.” ~Eric Schmidt.

 

 

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A Friend for All Seasons – Part Two

It’s the first day of October and I’m trying to concentrate on my clothes-folding and week planning but I can’t help the wandering my mind is doing. What’s on my mind is how different I am from who I was last year. Transitions are beautiful. Just yesterday, I learnt how to ride a bike…or almost 🙂 . My career directions have changed – I’m on a different path from what I started out on. My reading interests have changed – who knew that I’d one day prefer a history book over a novel? My overall style, is now sui generis, I’m happy to report 😀 and that has nothing much to do with the way I wear my skirts or hair, but everything to do with how I plan out myself and care for what God has entrusted to and gifted me. Like singleness. Like friendship. I love what Elisabeth Elliot says of such God-given gifts:

“…but even a stage is a gift. God may replace it with another gift, but the receiver accepts His gifts with thanksgiving. This gift for this day. The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived—not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.”

Navigating the corridors of friendship can sometimes be daunting. It’s been exactly a year after joining my church community and one of the things that I am learning to be patient about is the relationships that I’ve formed with the people I met for the first time a year ago. And when I say patience I’m not talking about remembering names or checking up on them every so often. You know, that kind of friendship where it’s the night before your first day at a new job and you text him/her:

“Hey G, I’m so nervous about tomorrow! Please pray with me.”

And somehow, the conversation that ensues helps to lift that weight of anxiety off your system. Suffice to say, such friendships are not made overnight and in a snap.

Here, I share with you lessons I have learnt this year about this sweet fellowship that constitutes God-led relationships:

For God’s glory

Good friendships honor the Lord. A good friend serves not himself/herself and his interests, but others. God created us for community, and the purpose of community is to point us to Him: the Communal Three-in-One Trinity. (Ps. 73:25–26) This means that even friendships have to be ‘as unto the Lord’. Laying our lives down and serving others, whilst remembering God’s original intended purpose for friendship and community. Friendships should help us to fully enjoy God.

Expectations vs reality

We all know it – yet ever so often deny it. Our desire for attention and love lead us to set some very unrealistic expectations on others, wanting them to be only what God can be, for us. Our restless hearts yearn for friends who can show up without failure. The subtlest forms of idolatry happen when we put good things above God.  I am likely to forget your birthday, I’m limited in my knowledge of whether you are sad or in pain, I will probably not be able to make it for every special event in your life…but that should not make me less of a friend. We have to learn to find our contentment in God for all that life pertains. Friendship being a gift is to be accepted with thanksgiving, as God has given it.

Go the extra mile

Oh I would not even want to know the total number of times I have suggested to meet and reconnect with a friend I haven’t seen in a long while and the meeting is yet to happen, months later…sometimes because I am waiting for the other person to ‘show interest’ and follow it up. The shame! See, one of the things I have learnt to embrace this year is that enjoyment of learning…the beauty of finally gaining knowledge about something that was once foreign and alien to you. I am a learner, proudly so. In the same way, I have to be interested in knowing what other people are all about. What are their interests? How do they handle certain issues? Our unique differences should make us so interesting to listen to. Go the extra mile, ask questions and listen. You’d be surprised just how lovely the other person is – and how similar you probably are (or aren’t).

Through joy and sorrow

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  ~ Proverbs 17:17

I once heard a friend refer to his friends as ‘blood-bought brothers and sisters’ and it struck and stuck. I have loved that phrase first for its meaning, then the context within which it was used. The best friends are blood-bought brothers and sisters born for adversity. They mourn with you, they celebrate with you. They have a ‘sticktoitiveness’ that traverses joy and sorrow. They would be willing to enter another’s pain just as much as they would delight in their wins.

Even when it hurts

One of my favorite lessons this year is that friendship is not a one-time coffee date experience. One thing we discussed after that bike-riding afternoon is the vulnerability that true friendship is made of. Consistent vulnerability.  There is a risk in sharing another’s story, but there’s a beauty about it too. Constantly touching base with our friends is what glues us together and deepens our relationships. It’s how you learn to address issues with them, seek forgiveness, share a nagging problem. Friendships involve breaking conversational barriers without losing it altogether. Friends are an uncomfortable grace, and I’m not sorry to say that 😀 you don’t enjoy being called out for sinning but thank God if you have a friend who does so!

Moving forward, I am reminded of one thing: Of all the things we have to enjoy, God is the greatest! We were created to enjoy Him and center our lives around Him! And we enjoy God most fully with other people. In my transitions, I pray to meet friends who point me to Truth, encourage me to do what is right and fully enjoy He who delights in us.

Friendships for the glory of God. 🙂

“Let us consider how to stimulate one another toward love and good deeds” ~ Heb. 10:24

Of Angels and Thunder – Childhood Tales

My maternal grandmother is blessed with wits that well match her cheer and constant laughter. Stories she has told us by candlelight, by the fireplace, and outside her house as we enjoyed the warm sunny afternoons, still linger in my mind and will probably stay in my heart for as long as I’ll be able to remember.

Grandma had a beautifully furnished bedroom. It was nothing fancy. Just a small room, but very neat (I carry those perfectionism genes 😀 ), clean and decorated with beautiful crocheted cloths and simple antiques. She referred to it as her ‘sanctuary’. The first time I walked into it, I knew then why she spent so much of her morning time locked up in there, singing hymns and praying. I certainly would choose to stay in there and write, listen to music, read or just sleep.

One rainy evening, my cousins and I followed our doting grandmother, and huddled in her ‘sanctuary’, where she offered us a snack of dry-fried maize meal (Where I come from, this is a delicacy that one prepares as you would roasted groundnuts – but with sugar. Popcorn of sorts 🙂 ). We loved listening to her, loved her cheery voice and definitely her stories. On this day, the occasional, loud claps of thunder would make us all jump and there was no telling just how the sight of lightning flashes had us sacred. She laughed – really laughed.

“That shouldn’t scare you at all. You know why? That’s just the angels in heaven, rearranging God’s furniture.”

I was surprised. In all the few years I had lived, I had never heard such an explanation for thunder before. I had read stories in the story books at school about gods getting angry at humans; none of them fascinated me as much as her explanation. Grandma was smart and wise…in my eyes, at least. Surely, she had lived all these years; she must know the ‘whys’ behind everything.

I couldn’t help smiling as I pictured white-robed angels with feathery wings, shoving sofas and chairs and TV sets across the bare wooden floors of heaven. Heaven must be a beautiful place if it needed such frequent décor make-overs. And by jove, what a fracas these ‘perfect’ beings seemed to make! Without doubt, this heightened my awe and respect for angels as I’d imagined them in my young mind.

grammy

Having grown up and my perspectives shaped by education, experience and religion, I know for sure that my grandmother helped to spur my desire to read, curiosity and creative abilities, in thought and deed. But what amazes me all the more is the ease and grace with which she carries herself throughout the seasons of life as they unfold.  Childhood tales aside, she often reminds us of the sovereignty of God – that He is in control of everything and is our all in all. Speaking to her recently reminded me of this – as she painstakingly tried to incorporate newly-learnt English phrases in the conversation. I loved and still love the way this beautiful woman talks. “Angels moving furniture…” 😀

A Friend for All Seasons – Part One

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

~ Proverbs 17:17

It’s one of those days where I’m both amused and fascinated by the fact that I have not seen a single person with a plastic paper bag. Anywhere. It’s just two days after the ban took official effect and I find it amazing how change can take place in the blink of an eye…and life moves on. This reminds me, in particular, of the transitions that my own life has been through over the years and especially after high school. Almost 7 years later, bumping into high school friends who I haven’t kept in constant touch over the years is usually a moment marked with both surprise and joy – the joy of seeing each other again, and the surprise of how we both have changed.

Let’s talk about friendship. Such a beautiful thing, don’t you agree? The life of a Christian is impossible without the sustaining, God-given grace administered through sanctifying, uplifting, stimulating, challenging, encouraging, and – above all – faithful friendships. Proverbs 17:17 expresses it very clearly, that a friend loves at all times. I can attest to the fact that I do have blood-bought brothers and sisters who were definitely born for adversity. They have become family. It never occurred to me how lightly I held onto friendship until I joined my church last year. It was, no doubt, a blessed attachment that put to shame my detachment from fellowship. I have seen dark and sad days in the past year, but they were not devoid of joy. I have been angsty and uncertain several times, but I have never had so much peace. Sometimes, looking around me on a Sunday morning in our church hall, a grateful tenderness fills me. Almost a sense of awe. These faces, young and old – yet every one of them alight with something lovely. Something warm. Every one of them dear to me, someone I can laugh with, talk with, share with as we fellowship or work. And some of them special in a sense that we’ve grown so close over the months it would be hard to imagine life without them.

friendship

I hope you agree with me, that we need brothers and sisters around us regularly who share a kinship of what they believe about God, the world, and the reason they exist. Granted, it may not always be a  uni-vocal, monotonous agreement, but just enough to go to war together, and perhaps with enough disagreement to get the sharpening sparks flying (Prov. 27:17). My Bible study and book club groups have helped me greatly in understanding this. At the beginning of this year we had a retreat where one of our pastors shared 4 marks of friendship: constancy, carefulness, candor and counsel. It was an equally exhorting and edifying session, because I have been guilty of overlooking some of these marks in my relationships. I can think back to times when the gist of friendship waned because the constancy of fellowship was abandoned. I can also remember instances where I could have boldly warned a friend about a decision he/she was about to make but I did not, and it did not end well.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”

~ Proverbs 27:17

So, what are the foundations of a good friendship? What does it comprise of? How do we fight the evils that seek to choke it? Where do we often go wrong? Where do our hearts falter? And how can we can avoid pitfalls and do things better? Well, I hope to learn more of this and grow in it. For today, I am grateful for the realization that friendship is more than what I gain from it: the death of self, and the love of other.

As a Christian, I am to deny my own desires to serve others, to listen well in love and to ultimately glorify God through these interactions. A good friend is worth a fortune. I am grateful for the friends that the Lord has blessed me with, friends now so dear to me who were once strangers. Yet, the Lord led me to them, sometimes against my own resistance. More than anything, I am grateful for the seasons through which these friendships have grown, the trust and loyalty that accompanies them and the grace that has sustained them.

Oh the joy of lifelong friends! 🙂

Blessed Un-assurance?

“I have cast my anchor in the port of peace Knowing that present and future Are in nail pierced hands.” ~Valley of Vision

June-July has been a particularly difficult season for my family, and a transition one for me. Yet, it couldn’t have been more beautiful without the ups and downs we have been through. Why? Because God has been good. He has taught us to steady our hearts on that ground – His goodness; His faithfulness. His love.

Surprises.

Last week while waiting in queue to board a matatu home it started raining. The rain came as quite the surprise, the day had been sunny and almost cloudless and I could tell from the tongue-clicks and agitated voices around me that not only was it unexpected, it was also unwelcome. The guy behind me was so piqued he cursed and named it “bad luck”. Seeing as I did not have an umbrella, I ran to shelter myself under one of the nearby building’s roof and wondered whether his having a bad day could have led him to express his anger so strongly. It got me thinking, how just a few years ago that would have been me with my beliefs in luck (good and bad) and how I ever so often blamed my actions on things failing miserably, or lauded my good works for things going so well.

Suffering.

If ever there was a time I would be burdened by anxiety over what would happen next, it would have been in this past season, when everything seemed to crumble. First, by wondering what we did wrong to go through any of it. Then, by seeking to ‘mend my ways’ for God to have mercy on us and send good tidings (luck?) our way. And to add to the anxiety, wondering what is round the bend. Oh how I thank God that that is not the case! I thank Him for His deliverance from this way of thinking, and I thank Him even more for by His grace I have learnt to rest in His Sovereignty.

Then there was peace. Not.

So picture this: a tough season has just come to an end in your life – momentarily at least. It’s been a peaceful fortnight or so and everything seems okay. Fellowship has been enjoyable, refreshing, edifying. Work has been productive, and school in equal measure. All is well around you, the sea is calm, no sign of storm…but not in your heart. It all seems too good – too calm to believe and the bottom is going to fall out from under us any minute. I’m not going to lie, I have been here severally. Yes. I know that feeling all too well. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop, or the feeling that if things are going well, there must be something I’m missing, avoiding, I’m in denial about, etc.  A dear friend joked that once we hit 40 that feeling (shoe dropping) begins to wane because by then we stop fearing the drop and just know it will. Ha. Really? 😀 Is there any truth in that?

He’s working…

Well, here’s why this has been an opportunity for sanctification in my life. When I have times of “peace” and all is going well, I thank and praise God for it. However, yes, I know it won’t last because this is life in a fallen world. In that regard, I do sometimes wonder what’s coming down the road next…what do I have to be prepared for. But through the hard parts, I can look back and see how God was working, learn lessons, press in harder to prayer and Scripture, and my faith is strengthened. I learn about God’s sovereignty. It doesn’t make it less hard, but it sure is comforting – more comforting than my own crazy speculations.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” ~Romans 8:28

Blessed Assurance.

Without doubt, there is a sublime sense of joy that comes with assurance. Our hearts are in constant search for certainty. But this is what I know today; that the Scriptures and Jesus are sufficient for my searching. (Oh such joy, such comfort!) He does not answer with certainty, and my preferred outcomes. A blessed un-assurance. Yet He requires my faith, in His goodness. His plans are better, even when they are really hard 🙂 I have always loved the hymn “Blessed Assurance”, and the upshot in this, is that in those spaces and places through which I’m fighting to believe, I pray that I shall learn to maintain the full assurance of hope in God.

 

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;

          O, what a foretaste of glory divine.