3 Years (Part 2)

I remember when I was 3. I was in shagz. I had never been to Nairobi. That’s the year my dad taught my first Swahili phrase (wacha mchezo!) and my first English word (Kangaroo!).  Everything else, including my schoolwork, was done in Kamba. My nursery school was about 1 km from home. There was no pre-unit, no baby class. Just nursery and then class one – standard one. If you are from where I’m from it was standandi wan! I got into more than enough trouble as a 3-year-old. It’s also the year I started learning, both in and out of school. Being 3 is oddly similar to having being employed where I am for the last 3 years, especially the learning aspect.

If you follow my blog, last time I blogged about my 3-year work anniversary. You can catch up on part 1 here. I have learned many things but I will only share 3. How I got the job was the first lesson and that never really gets out of my mind. However, as any adult knows, the beginning of anything good might be exciting but that’s not it. The real work is in doing the real thing. It’s like me being 2 and turning 3. Learning a few things at home is not enough. You are thrust out there in the world to be taught 123s and AEIOUs. You get tested and sometimes you fail. That’s where some fundamental lessons lie. I never wanted to be wrong but every time I got something wrong in class, I never wanted to get it wrong again. Correction taught me and made me better because it increased my knowledge. It is the same thing with work.

Every time I review my time at work, I tend to measure the success. The milestones, the new projects, the crisis averted, the deadlines beaten etc. Those are good to think about. They encourage me. However, growing takes more than reminiscing on your own success. I’m learning to be more observant of the things that have made that success possible and in that lies my next lesson; learning. This morning as I was getting to work I realized how normal it has become. The daily routine and daily tasks have become such a norm. I have so much in my fingertips that most of my job has become normal. In short, I have learned to navigate my job without the initial difficulty. In short, I have learned a lot! How then have I learned? How did so much become so normal?

Learning is not easy. You do not choose the syllabus. You do not choose when the exams comes. It is the same with work. I have not chosen when the hard times come. When projects fail. When an emergency comes up. When someone blunders but the blame is on me. I do not choose when I get reviewed. It just happens. It is those sudden happenings that have taught me the most. There are mornings I have walked into the office confident that I will close early, only to end up spending the night. There are times I have submitted reports thinking I have aced them only to get reprimanded for doing a shoddy job. There are times I have been sure that I have made the best decision for our company only to be overridden. Those are the times I have learned the most. That’s when I have had to change my thinking. Correction changes my perception and the correct perception sets me up for success.

I consider education and learning as a process of changing of one’s mind/thinking. If you can shape the way someone thinks, you have successfully taught them. If I can see a snake shaped figure and consider is to mean letter “S”, then my alphabet teacher did a good job. I have learned a lot more when I thought I was thinking right only to be told to think otherwise. As the proverbs goes, there is a way that seems right to a man but it leads to death. I would never want to think I’m right then end up being wrong. I would rather correction. I would rather attempt and be wrong than be content with the status quo and later discover I was wrong the whole time.

One of my favorite poets once said “I’m afraid of being wrong, but if I am, tell me! I ain’t afraid of correction, (I)humbly embrace lessons.” Anyone who knows me well, knows I’m afraid of failure. To avoid failure I have learned to listen correction. It’s a paradox but it works! After all, the good book says “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

3 Years (Part 1)

“3 years is a big deal right now, but it probably won’t be a few years from now. There are always bigger things. That’s how God works.” – me to me, in my head.

One hour ago, I walked into my boss’s office and asked if he had a minute. He probably thought I was discussing something work-related, but I instead thanked him for employing me for the last 3 years.

“Wow! 3 years? You joined us in September? It feels like it’s been shorter!”

It was a nice conversation. It has been a great working experience. It feels huge because I never saw this moment 3 years ago. All my initial imaginations of how work would be in 3 years were smaller than what it is right now. It has worked out better than I expected. It has made me think about the lessons I have learned in the last 3 years. There is so much I could say, but I will share one lesson from each year.

When I graduated from college, I was officially unemployed. My family threw me a huge party upcountry and my friends came. Even 2 sheep died for my grades. It was a good time! Every time I remember it, I remember how much effort it took for friends to get there (and back); one got lost counting all the dry rivers (everyone told him, “no vaa“), a car crashed (they survived without a scratch), a couple came with their new-born baby, a friend came and rushed back to Nairobi to see their sister fly out, some friends got rides from strangers just to get there and back etc. I felt so loved because I was celebrated. My grades weren’t what I wanted or what everyone knew I could get but they came to appreciate the milestone. It was all good until I got back to Nairobi.

That following Monday I realized it was time to “tarmac”. It was time to look for a job and the odds were so against me. I assumed it would take quite some time and a lot of convincing (maybe even begging). I prayed. I remember telling God, “I don’t think I’m in good place and I think I could have done better. But it is what it is. Tafadhali nibariki tu hata kama ni na kakazi kadogo nianze life please. Hata internship haitakuwa mbaya. Nitajiprove.”  Life had humbled me, so I humbled myself before God, the maker of life.

I took a couple of other people’s cover letters and CVs to copy their formats. Without connections or experience, I was ready to drop my documents speculatively in a few offices. I googled possible opportunities and even mapped out my days of tarmacking. I didn’t have much fare, so I made sure all the places I was going to every specific day were a walking distance from the first stop. (Walking distance here is measured in Kamba terms. “No vaa“). It took a week to prepare everything I needed; several copies of papers to prove that I’m myself, I went to the schools I went to and did the things I’m claiming I did. I prayed again. I asked God for “even an internship that just gives me a stipend to start with as I work myself up”. It’s interesting how often I can limit God to what I think could be the best option, especially when I’m feeling inadequate.

What I never knew was that the first place I had been told to check, was the first place that I would get employed at. I walked in, walked out 20 mins later and reported to work the following morning (before everyone else, only to realize I didn’t have the key, so I had to wait.)

I could not have orchestrated any of it. I thought I would start small and work my way up to the post I have now, but I got it on day one! That’s not a come up, it’s a breakthrough! Sometimes I forget that I’m where I wanted to be in five years, 3 years ago. Today, I’m grateful God opened this door. I’m glad I knocked on it. I’m glad I took my chances with this opportunity. That’s my first lesson; Not to forget to count my blessings especially when they have become normal to me. To remember how I got where I am and be grateful. If anything, it will teach me not to think of any moment, whether good or bad, as the end because God always has a plan for better.

Straight From My Journal Pt.1

“Straight From My Journal” will be a series of things I have written/thought/prayed about in the last 10 or so years. These will be either direct excerpts or inspirations from past journal entries.

One of my favourite things to do every year is to read through all my journals. It’s not every year that I succeed in this. This week, I hope to start. By this I mean that I have been wanting to do it for months and once more, I have postponed it to this week. It’s quite an exercise in itself. It’s like reading my mind from a certain point in my life. Sometimes just one statement from one time takes me back to the exact moment I wrote it. However, some others are just there – nothing too impressive. I can be stuck on one page for days or I may be able to read 20 pages in one sitting. I guess that’s the way life is; sometimes you can coast through day-by-day getting through the mundane without realizing it’s all building to something much bigger. Moments come and go, and others come to stay.

Getting a glimpse into my past thinking can be very embarrassing. It’s just like scrolling through “On This Day” on Facebook to find so many memories of some girl you used to like that is now married or something of that sort. Or that one time you thought you rocked the best looks ever but now it’s not even something worth looking at. Sometimes it’s like Christmas time; my family somehow almost always ends up telling stories of things I did as a kid. Given I was a confident, adventurous (and maybe naughty) lastborn, it is extremely fun for everyone but me. However, it’s a good way to realize how much I have grown up. In a similar way, although it is embarrassing, reading through my thoughts, prayers and hopes from the last many years remind me that God is growing me.

Reliving my past can also be pretty discouraging. I tend to I find that I have not made progress in things I had hoped to. It reminds me of how long I have wanted some things (and wanted not to want some things). The worst are the ones I read from ages ago that feel like they were written this morning. The Bible speaks of the heart being desperately wicked (and not to be trusted). Surely, mine is not exempt. As much as I see growth in God over the years, I also see patterns of sin that persist over periods of time. I mean, after all these years I should have at least learned not to snooze, that lust kills and not to hide my sensitivity and insecurities by being mean to people or avoiding them altogether, right? It is disappointing but seeing these patterns helps me remember to trust in God and not in myself. It’s discouraging but it encourages me to hold onto God. He alone can surely save me!

The whole reading process is generally enjoyable. I laugh a lot. Mostly at myself. I pause in awe a lot too. Sometimes I bump into some gems that make me wonder why I’m not as wise now as I was at that time. Other times, I see how God gave me wisdom through reading the Bible that I would not have otherwise. In retrospect, I see how it has shaped my life and it encourages me to not only keeping reading the word of God but obeying it then taking note of it. It also stirs up a lot of things and I hope to share some of them for the next month or so. I hope it will be useful to someone here.

 

Good Morning

I rarely have good mornings (except when the breakfast is really good). My best mornings are the ones I don’t have – when I get to sleep in. That’s just my preference. Fortunately, life is not about my preferences. Otherwise, I would be able stay awake perpetually without ever needing sleep! (Have you ever considered how life would be if you never needed to sleep? Your body not needing rejuvenation by the process of closing the eyes so as to shut down the body while preferably lying horizontally? Heavenly, right?). Today was one of those many mornings when I wake up and wish I could sleep until it’s lunch time! I also wished that I had woken before dawn to pray, read, write, eat, work, work out, draft this blog, make plans, follow through on a plan…to do something. In the midst of my wishes, I stayed half-awake in bed, as I often do, scrolling through things on my phone that I could have looked at later. One hour later, I wished I had just gotten off that bed one hour before and skipped my phone habits. I have had many a wishful mornings like this.

It reminded of something I read in my journal a while back. It’s an entry I made on 7th November, 2015. I had just turned 24. It was the morning after. Scratch that, it was the afternoon after. I definitely slept in that morning, or rather conked out! I had had a good time that previous night trying hard to forget all the things I wanted to not remember from the previous year. I was not successful. That’s when I decided to write a list of things I wanted to achieve/do at 24. I needed a revamp. Desperately. That’s the list I remembered this morning. I remembered it because I never finished it. The same way I didn’t finish sleeping this morning. The sad thing is that I listed only 6 things. It’s not that I never had many things I wanted to do, it’s just that I never had the discipline to list them down. I went a year without even noticing I never finished the list. I achieved only one thing in that list – moving out. However, I achieved a lot of things I did not plan for. Mostly because I did not have a plan. Rather, I did not have time to plan things so I wasted time doing a lot of things I did not plan to ever do. I suspect that I wanted to have such a good time without the pressure of checking whether I was really doing anything good. I ended up making a lot of regrettable choices because I tried living life as if there were no regrets.

Mornings like today’s remind me of that unfinished list. It reminds me what a lack of direction did (and could again do) to me. That having no specific path to follow is actually following a path to destruction. True to the Bible,  where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18). If I have no sense of direction, any path will take me there, wherever there is! Having no definite destination, every step seems to be taking me there and every stop could be it! It’s quite an adventure. A dangerous one. After all, adventures have to do with danger, right? But this is the kind of danger that got me spanked as a kid. The proverbial don’t-play-with-fire kind that gets me burned. There is no end to it because I’d never (and didn’t) know when to stop. Sometimes, I won’t (and didn’t) even know how to stop. It’s at the end that I find out that all the things that seem to fill me up are instead emptying me and my life is full but not fulfilling. Again, true to the Bible, it’s easy to be one of those guys who become worthless for following worthless things! (Jeremiah 2:5, 2 Kings 17:15)

These were my thoughts this morning. Half-stressed about the things I had not done while I was snoozing and half-worried about all the things I now had to attend to with lesser time, I labored through my morning routine. Half-way through, I did the same thing I do so often – promise myself that I will do better. That tonight I will sleep earlier and therefore wake up earlier tomorrow. You see, “It takes more discipline to go to bed on time than to get up on time. There are not as many pressures to go to bed. And sleep is so boring compared to playing or going out or watching TV.” (John Piper). As I thought about all these things, analyzed my usual mornings and reflected on past thoughts/experiences in my life I was able to realize/remember a few things that are worth writing about.

I considered the pace at which I do things; how quick I am to snooze the alarm, how slow I am to wake up, how quickly I agree to “one more show/movie/game/chapter before I sleep, how slowly I have become slothful to crucial morning routines…I considered how all these affect how I pursue the bigger picture in life. How slow or fast I’m laying the building blocks of my life. How slow or fast I follow up the plans I make with action. It is now clear to me that pace is important. The rate at which I do things matters a lot. However, I think pace is guided by direction. When I forget (or don’t even know) where I’m heading, I lose a sense of direction, spiral out of control  and get off pace. I may not even notice it, but I dive head first into matters I have no business in and drag my feet in areas I must be focused on. Whenever I find myself in such a pattern, I must slow down to recalibrate then pick up speed as I regain speed. For instance, should I find myself in a lazy sleep pattern, I must wake up and get on with the day immediately. There is no room for slacking. There is no room for lazy mornings.

I have also realized that I have no time to waste. Anything that does not start anywhere, end at a specific point and has no definite rules of engagement therefore, is a waste of time. There is no victory in that, for there are no specific goals/guidelines to even tell when me I have achieved it. Therefore, I cannot afford to live without goals. To put it in context, I have recently been thinking about where I am in life. The age, achievements, job, friends etc. In a conversation about this with my pastor a few weeks ago, as I recounted my blessings, I couldn’t help but ask “how did I get here?”. I didn’t ask in regret or confusion as I have many times before, but rather with gratitude. It wasn’t a ‘kwani jana kuliendaje’ moment. I’m further than I imagined I would ever be but it’s as if I didn’t see it happening. My pastor was wise enough to respond with a challenge I won’t forget for a while, “Imagine how further ahead you would be if you had paid attention to the processes that took you here?!” You see, opportunities come and go in a moment. Sometimes I take them but never utilize them fully because I go with the flow. It’s the moments that I have caught that have propelled me further ahead. It’s the moments that I have winged/slacked through that have prevented me from being even further ahead. To do better with the opportunities I get, I must learn to catch all the moments. To catch the moments, I must learn not to waste time. Not wasting my time means I must live life with an end goal in mind, have milestones to measure progress and put boundaries to keep me from wandering off. As Apostle Paul wrote, I must not box as one beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:26) I must land my punches. And not just land them, but land them hard and smack on target. To do all this, I must wake up!

The final thing I learned was from the list I never finished. The list of 24 things I was to do at 24. A list that ended up being 6 things, of which I only did one. Number 5 on that list was “Never go 24 hours without praying.” (Enyewe, kila kitu kwa hio list ilikuwa na theme ya 24! I bet ningeimaliza ningesema nioe in 24 months. Maybe ni poa sikuimaliza coz hizo 24 months ishaisha na niko vile niko tu.) I digress. Of course, I never achieved that. In fact, at 24 I clocked the most number of 24 hours without prayer in my entire life. (Hata chakula nilikuwa nakula tu!) That was a huge mistake and it cost me a great deal. The real error was not just having an incomplete list, no real plan, but rather not praying. Without God, what could I really do? It’s the same question I have pose to myself today. What’s all this wisdom about not wasting time if I don’t submit my plans to the One who is the beginning and the end? What’s the fuss of keeping up the pace if I’m in sync with the maker of life? If I don’t pay attention to God’s plan on the daily, how will I know whether my plans are off or not? It’s no mistake that the Bible says that we pray constantly, without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17). To get anything in my life right, then, I must pray. Daily. Constantly. Without ceasing. This does not negate my responsibility in getting things right. It just acknowledges that as I do so, it is really God that works in me both to will and work for his good pleasure! (Philippians 2:12,13) This not only helps me plan but even extends my expectations higher for I become constantly aware that God’s plan is way better than mine. It gives me a responsibility that is beyond me to get my mornings right!

That’s how I plan to have a good morning tomorrow. And the day after. And the one after that. Having a sense of urgency because I have sense of awareness of what I have to do. Having a sense of awe because I know God will do even much more. Keen on the moments so that I can fully savor the workings of God as well as fully enjoy the work of my hands. To be so aware of the times that when I ask how I got anywhere I can confidently say, “God’s plan!”

No Regrets

My year usually starts in November. I prefer counting it years from the day I was born. It’s a thing! To my advantage, it means I reflect on the past year from October and plan for the next year way before January. It is a routine I have found quite helpful. It works. At least for me. Over the last 2 to 3 years, I have had unforgettable birthday celebrations and quite nice New Year Eve’s parties. However, in retrospect, it seems the excitement and celebrations overshadowed the sad and dissatisfied state of my heart. The Proverb is true that the heart knows its own bitterness and no stranger can share in its joy. New years can be like that. You have all the fun with everyone and everything looks great, but you also have all the reflective thoughts by yourself and sometimes nothing looks great! Everyone wishes you a happy new year or a happy birthday but sometimes you wish the days in the year preceding that date would be happier. Such wishes signify regrets. Regrets indicate some form of failure.

Your failures can drain you in a way that your victories will not fill you. There is an empty feeling that comes from losing one time that cannot be filled with winning another time. No matter where you go right now, it does not change where you were back then. As much as the moments pass by, memories remain. When better things come, worse times play catch up. The mind rewinds or rather reminds of where you could be if certain things worked out. It can be thoughts such as;

“If had gotten that scholarship…”

“If I had not sinned that one time…those many times…these many times…”

“If he/she had said yes!”

The heart jumps at the idea of how things could have been such that when one reflects on the present, and the potential it holds, nothing seems to fit.

“My academics didn’t turn out as I wanted them to.”

“I cannot recover the innocence I once had.”

“Every other girl is not as good.”

It is not that all is wrong at that moment; it just does not feel right! And there is nothing to be done about it. Or is there? What do you do with regrets?

These are the kind of things I tend to think about every year. My mind pendulums between having hope and dreams for the new one and having regrets about the past one. I celebrate the victories and mull over the failures. The worst feeling is when the failures are the same every other year! When there is a clear consistency of being low because I keep letting myself down. It is the place I have found myself over the past few years. In the words of Relient K, who I am hates who I have been. I have failed myself and no winnings can reverse those failures. No doings can undo my deeds. No new story can rewrite history. No testimony can undo the tests I failed at. When you plan to do something, it’s done or not done – period! There are no in-betweens. Trust is only broken or kept – there is nothing like half-broken.

When you plan to do something, it’s done or not done – period!

As this past year ended, I was still on the same mental path. 2017 (and 25) had been such a full year. Full of everything! There was much to remember and celebrate and well, a lot to forget (and regret, when remembered). Of course, I remembered. This time, my mind wandered back to times when I had so much hope. When I was younger and life was simpler. All the things I wanted to be when I grew up. The fact that I assumed I would even grow up! I probably wandered all the way back to early childhood when the world was at my feet (and I was barely on my feet). It was actually nice remembering all those hopes. At least until I looked at myself and looked at now. I remember thinking, “it is all crooked. I am crooked. I am trying to love God and my neighbour yet I am hating them by my actions. I am reading all these books then acting ignorantly. My heart is light years behind my shelf!” However, unlike the years before, my thoughts did not end there. Well, I did not leave them at that.

I found and I have constantly been finding this to be true; life is unidirectional. I cannot go back. Even if, I wished to. Even so, my regrets cannot promise me that I will do better today. There is no promise there. The fear that arises from mistakes I have made in the past, recent or far back, should not hold me back today. The regrets from what I have done, recent or far off, should not make me resort to wishful thinking and inaction. There is no benefit there. I will wake up, give thanks and live because God is good. All the time. Live like I’m not scared. Love like I’m not scarred. My resolve today can change something based on the hope I have for tomorrow. Given that I had so much hope at one instance (many instances actually), and the fact that my greatest days are still ahead, then what’s there not to live for? The circumstances may or may not change but knowing the truth frees me to strive in those circumstances. I am a mess and yet deeply loved. By God.

That line of thought has freed me! I am learning that it is not out of wisdom that I ask “why were the former days better than these?” It is so easy to look back to the hey days and wish I could relive those moments and make the best of them. I imagine it could make some things better. But that’s not wise. Comparing the past with the present in that sense could rob me of the joy of reminiscing on good times as well as missing out on the present and that has a denting effect on my future. This year is all about less regrets and more hope. At times even no regrets! I hope so!

I also hope you find encouragement in this!

Thoughts. (I)

When I was a child, every thing I desired to be was far off yet all of it seemed achievable. As an adult, I have the tendency to look at my present circumstances in comparison to what I think I should have achieved by now. When I was younger, I would look forward to being an adult but now, I look back and wish I adulted better. It feels like I am just playing catch up and my former hopes are blinded by my present realities.

It is often said that the things you become in the future are less shaped by hope alone but more by the actions (or none) that follow up those hopes. That is the reality of life, right? A while back I had this thought;

Can I hope as I did as a kid and adult at the same time? Can I believe that I can be something besides my circumstances? Could I still talk about the future I hope for with the same excitement I had when I was younger? I guess what I’ve been thinking about is the possibility of retaining a childlike faith while maintaining an adult pragmatism.

Joyful in hope. Patient in affliction. Persistent in prayer. That is the goal.