She Is Set Apart Spotlight

S'ambrosia testimony

This week I did a guest post for the She Is Set Apart website about my personal testimony pre-Ray. Some of you may have heard about my “dirty” secret, but others may have no idea. Either way, I’ve put it out there again in hopes that it will be an encouragement to other women and teens out there, and to hopefully start a dialogue with anyone who needs help. When Shelley and I first did the book, I had so many women contacting me for help/advice, but with the mayhem of marriage and moving, I became focused on other things. Hopefully this blog post gets the conversations going again. I’m totally open and willing to talk even if your struggle is something not related to mine.

I’d also like to announce that this post is the beginning of a continued partnership with She Is Set Apart, as I’ll be writing a bi-weekly column on relationships from the perspective of a woman who was all about being single before a cat named Ray changed her mind. If you’re interested in keeping up with those posts, please check out the site and be sure to follow it.

Meanwhile, you can either click the picture above or click here to read my testimony.

Much love and many prayers, dear friends.

S’ambrosia

Our answer to the question: “When are you having kids?”

It’s complicated.

From the first day we arrived in Kenya to today, our ear holes have ceaselessly been bombarded with the question, “When are you having kids?” Because we got married when we were both nearly 30, we were already familiar with questions like:

  • “When are you getting married?”
  • “Do you plan to be celibate for the rest of your life?”
  • “Are you gay?”

Enter the question du jour

Back in America, though many people may be wondering when a baby is coming, few people ask. Here in Kenya, everyone is wondering and everyone asks. It doesn’t matter if we met the person five seconds ago. Once he/she finds out that we’re married, we know what question is coming next. It never fails. The general expectation here is that within a month of a couple being married, the gossip grapevine should be bustling with baby news.

Ray and I both want to have and adopt a lot of kids, but aside from our decision to spend our first year of marriage focusing on our relationship, we just have a lot of cultural and personality issues that we are still trying to work through before we can answer that question.

Let’s start with delivery, shall we?

For American women, it can be incredibly disheartening if their husband is not present at the time of birth. You expect to have the guy responsible for putting the baby inside your belly to be present when it comes out. Of course we want to share the joy of meeting the baby for the first time with our husbands, but we also want them to share in our suffering. Someone has to. Here in Kenya, men aren’t allowed in the delivery room. Maybe some of our Kenyan readers can explain why it’s culturally improper, but we have yet to hear about a hospital here that will allow Ray in the delivery room.

**Update: After talking to a few people we found out that hospitals in Nairobi city will let the man in the delivery room if you communicate with doctors beforehand that it’s something you want. It’s mostly outside of the city that you won’t have that option.

Bringing home the baby… but who’s in charge?

The first week that the baby’s around, a Kenyan wife is relieved of her household duties, and relatives come and help her take care of the baby. Many of you have heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, and that’s truly the mindset here. For weeks, one or two family members will become a permanent fixture in the new parents’ home to teach the woman how to be a mom. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m an introvert. The first time Ray and I discussed this particular cultural expectation, I literally cried. I know in America some women have their mothers come stay with them for a week or so, and maybe I wouldn’t find that to be so bad, but that’s just the beginning. Part of the reason you have people come live with you is because there will be cycles of people coming to visit, and you are required to feed them all. It’s rude if you don’t. For this reason, once we find out we’re pregnant, it will be a must that we move into a bigger place, not just to accommodate the baby, but to accommodate all the guests, live-in and daily.

I guess for me I just was looking forward to learning by trial and error with Ray and spending quality time alone with my baby. I like the idea of a village helping to raise a child, but actually living that out is a different story. Maybe it’s the pride in me that doesn’t want to be told I’m doing things wrong or how to raise my child, but it’s something I’m going to have to deal with, because it’s important to my husband.

Is it a boy or a girl?

The majority of couples in the States find out the sex of their child as soon as possible so that they can prepare the nursery, clothing, and accessories. Unless you’re a modern couple living in Nairobi city, most people don’t find out the sex of their baby. Even when it comes to buying gender based items, it’s not that important. I often see baby boys in girls clothes and girls in boys clothes. Especially the rural areas, people aren’t as interested in dressing their kids in the appropriate clothing for their gender as much as they are interested in procuring any kind of clothing that fits well enough.

Infliction of pain on our boy child

I’m talking about circumcision here. There’s always the debate of whether or not to get your child circumcised, but for those that do circumcise, it’s usually taken care of shortly after birth so as to keep the child from having painful memories and to reduce certain risks, but for Ray’s tribe in particular, circumcision is a rite of passage for boys when they’re about ten (Ray was 8). There is a huge production that the Luhya tribe is known for when it comes to circumcision, involving parades, walking around naked, and covering themselves in mud (there’s more detailed information about it here), but thankfully Christians do not participate in these practices anymore, so our future boy child is safe there. Still, Ray thinks it’s cruel to cut a baby and I think it’s cruel to cut an adolescent, but we both think circumcision is important nonetheless.

And he shall be called…

Like most American girls, I picked out the names for my children long before puberty made child bearing possible for me. Flip through any of my journals from middle school and you’ll see lists of names, underlined, circled, or scribbled out (depending on if I was still into the dude I wanted to name my child after). A lot of you back home have heard me talk about this, but when Ray and I first got together, he told me that traditionally either his grandfather is supposed to name our child or our children should bear the name of at least one of his relatives. Nowadays it’s more of a respect thing to name your child after a grandparent, but not a necessity, so this matter has become the least of my concerns.

The battle of our wills

There are some issues on the list that are extremely important to me. I wouldn’t want anyone else in the delivery room with me except for Ray (and my bestie Lisa). I refuse to give birth without him present. Ray also is adamant about having family come to help out. As is characteristic of the nature of marriage, we both are going to have to sacrifice a lot, and we want to be in agreement about the majority of these issues before we’re bombarded with them as we’re dealing with the stress that will naturally come from having a newborn. Through natural family planning we’ve been able to give ourselves time to discuss this quite a bit, but Sammy honey wants to have a baby with a quickness, so hopefully we’ll be able to resolve all these issues soon enough.

Gun fire in the streets: 5 minutes of panic

Rongai shooting

Ray looking out from the second floor of the mall at the area where the shooting occurred.

This morning, well fairly close to noon, Ray woke me up to tell me he was heading to work.

He normally leaves around 9am, but lately he’s been going to the office later so he can work on the Internet at home before meeting with clients. Recently I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve been getting annoyed when Ray stays home late because it interrupts my “me” time, but today I was extremely grateful that he delayed.

Alarming conversations and unnecessary delays

Ten minutes after Ray left, my friend Whitney sent a text and asked me if Ray was at work. Thinking she was in the mall and wanted to stop in and say hi, I told her he was on his way and should be there shortly.

A few seconds later she called.

“There’s heavy gunfire going on right now at Maasai Mall (where Ray works), tell him to go home!”

All my grogginess suddenly disappeared.

About a year ago most of you probably saw coverage of the mass shooting at Westgate Mall, but what is not reported across the pond is the frequent bombings, shootings, and national threats that happen on the regular here. Just a few months ago a bomb exploded in a bus just down the road from Ray’s old apartment.

You can imagine then the horrific thoughts there were running through my head.

As I was trying to call Ray, my phone flashed “battery low” and threatened to shut off in the wrong place at the wrong time forcing me to delay placing the call while I searched for the charger.

I finally reached him and began breathlessly telling him to come home, but within thirty seconds I ran out of airtime and the phone cut off (I wasn’t kidding about short phone conversations here).

All of these delays were really doing a number on my mental stability. I was this close to throwing on my clothes and running down the road to see if I could just find Ray myself when he called me back.

He was coming home.

Takeaways from today

Later, as Ray contacted guys from work and Whitney updated me, we discovered that four thugs had tried to jack an armored car near the mall and there was a gun fight between them and the police in the streets. All four thugs were killed, and as far as we know, there weren’t any other casualties.

I hate to think of what could have happened if Ray had left for work just a bit earlier and was walking on Magadi Road when all this was going down, but I’m thankful that that’s not how it happened.

If anything, today’s incident has further increased my desire to quit being a baby about the days Ray sticks around the house and to cover him in prayer every time he walks out the door. One of the habits I had as a newlywed of praying for Ray as he left was dropped once his office moved from Nairobi city to Rongai, but I was putting way too much faith in Rongai being “safer than the city” and not enough faith in God. I definitely need to continue covering him in prayer every time he steps out of the house.

We’d love your prayers as well.

Uhuru Gardens

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nairobiA few weeks ago I mentioned that Ray and I attended a cake festival here in Nairobi, but I neglected to mention that it was held in Uhuru Gardens. I didn’t take many pictures because there was too much going on, and my hands were full of cake, but here’s a few snapshots of the sculptures in the park. Maybe next time we make it out there I’ll get more. 🙂

Is PMS a proper excuse for bad behavior?

There are usually three phases I go through when it’s “that time of the month.”

Phase 1 – Silent but deadly

I may be staring at the wall, but I’m keeping track of every single thing Ray does that annoys me. At some point, he’ll pay. Someone has to.

Phase 2 – Two strikes and I’m wild’n out

Once the cramps hit, game over. All the pent up anger comes out and so do the boxing gloves.

Phase 3 – The depression after the storm

As internal issues dwindle down in my body, the reality of how many times I wronged my husband becomes glaringly apparent and weeping is the only thing I know to do.

We’ve come to accept this as a normal part of life, but should it be? Should women get a free pass from being like Christ whenever that time of the month rolls around?

I think not.

So how do we stop the cycle? (pun intended)

  • When I met with my advisor for natural family planning, I learned that PMS isn’t supposed to be normal. Did you know that? If you have symptoms of PMS, it’s actually a sign that your progesterone levels might be too low. In that wise, I don’t know that it’s fair to excuse bad behavior when it’s caused by an issue that can be helped by drinking more soy milk, eating whole grains, or taking a supplement. Knowing this makes the issue more of our responsibility to take better care of bodies than an uncontrollable function of a women’s physical nature.
  • God knows our thoughts before we think them and every inner working of our frame, so when He tells us to be holy as He is holy, I don’t believe He makes an exception for menstruating women. So who are we to claim that the Spirit of God living within us isn’t powerful enough to overcome an issue within a body that He created?
  • You don’t lose your ability to reason. So when you find yourself holding a bone to your husband’s throat, stop for a minute and listen to that voice telling you it’s a bad idea. It’s always there. I think sometimes we’ve gotten so used to the “PMS excuse”, that dismissing  our conscience becomes the norm, but that doesn’t make it right.

Now I’m not saying that I have this down at all. My only response to Ray various times today was “Shut up,” but I am saying that for the rest of this week and from now on, I aim to make more of an effort to submit to the Spirit instead of just letting the mood swing take it’s course.

So what do you think? Anyone out there got any other tips or tricks to mastering this aspect of womanhood?

Can I just have a little space, please?

I may love quality time with my husband, but I’m also a fan of quality time with myself.

The me, myself, and I phase

Before Ray came along, myself and I used to have a good ol’ time together. If I wasn’t hungry, neither was myself, so there was no need to bother with cooking. We both hated washing dishes, so at times we would neglect doing that until the insurgence of gnats or appearance of mold forced one of us to cave (I wish I could insert a “jk” here, but sadly, I’m telling the truth). On Friday nights, myself would treat me to a movie, and we’d take our blanket and sit on the heater while we ate junk food and repeated humorous lines from the movie to each other.

Now that Ray has laid claim to the role of best friend, and I have been given wifey status, time with myself has become… strained. Instead of eating only when I notice my stomach growling, I have to make sure that I’m cooking meals regularly. Instead of using every utensil in the kitchen at least once before I wash the dishes, I have to clean them daily. I still get movie time, but whereas myself and I were always in agreement about what movie we were in the mood for, Ray and I always have to debate between action, comedy, and drama.

The livelihood of wivelihood

When I first came to Kenya, as Ray and I were initally discovering our feelings for each other, he asked me what I thought the hardest part of marriage would be. I didn’t have to think too long before I answered the loss of my independence. Through almost nine months of marriage, we’ve been dealing with the ups and downs of my transition from an independent woman who spent the majority of her adult life single to a married woman who lives in a culture that has high expectations for “wivelihood”.

Like most women, I came into the marriage with tons of ambition to be the best wife I could be. I was hand washing all of our laundry, cleaning and decorating the house, and actively learning how to make all the local dishes as well as experimenting with new recipes. When Ray would leave for work, I would feel a genuine ache of sadness and become really distraught when he would get home late.

Now I’ve taken to hiring our neighbor’s house girl to do the laundry for me, I don’t really enjoy being in the kitchen anymore, and I often hope Ray delays getting home so that I can scramble to clean and cook so it looks like I wasn’t on the computer all day, which of course I was (I do a lot of online transcription and freelance writing, so don’t be too quick to judge).

Trying to make it work

Ray and I have talked about this transition in my attitude towards house work, and he’s suggested things like making housework a priority before I focus on other work, but just like morning devotions have never worked for me, morning cleaning is just as big of a flop. Ray has always been great about taking the weekends to do the cooking, but now that he sees the coal in my furnace smoldering, he has been making more of an effort to help throughout the week as well. Some people might think that he is spoiling me and encouraging me to be lazy, but really, his giving me a break is motivating me to want to do more for him. It’s encouraging me to get out of my current slump.

In fact, yesterday was probably one of the best days we’ve had in our relationship. He decided to stay home from work because there were some rallies in town that were likely to become riotous (thankfully they didn’t). At first I was kind of upset because I had queries to write for freelance jobs, I had a transcription to do, I needed to finish writing a guitar lesson, and I just wanted to be alone.

Then he brought me breakfast in bed.

While he was in the kitchen I just stared at the food and thought, “Okay, he’s making a sacrifice. Let me not turn this day into another fight.” So when he came back to the room, I had made up my mind to serve him. Back and forth throughout the day, we did what the other person wanted even if it meant we lost out on some things. Yes, those writing and transcription projects are still waiting for me today, but I caught a glimpse yesterday of why an attitude of humility and servitude is so important in marriage, and that outweighed the urgency of my to-do list and alone time.

The principle of giving in marriage

When you place the desire of your spouse above your own, you’re ultimately satisfying your own desires. Not only are you demonstrating the second greatest commandment, which should be our ultimate aim, but you’re filling your husband’s love tank, which ultimately leads to the filling of yours. That last part may sound a little selfish, but just as we’re told to give in order to receive in monetary terms (Luke 6:38) and even in terms of forgiveness (Matt. 6:14), I believe the same principle applies here. Give, and it will come back to you.

Give your time, and you’ll get it back.

Give your service, and you’ll get some back.

Give up that last piece of cake that you were saving for a midnight snack, and you’ll get something better.

Of course it can be dangerous to focus too much on the expectation of a return on your investment, so be careful of the onset of offense if you don’t yield profits as soon as you expect. Maybe it will take longer than you expect, but as you serve, remember Galatians 6:9:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Maybe the time I thought I was going to spend at home pampering myself or getting work done will be temporarily denied by my husband’s presence, but if I seek to serve him instead of complaining, it won’t be long before he’s pampering me or helping to relieve the burden of work. In that respect, I’m finding that time spent with Ray trumps time with myself any day.

Claustrophobia and the trap of offense

My brothers and I all have claustrophobia issues. As children, if you tried to put a blanket over our heads, you’d undoubtedly receive claw marks and bruises in the process. Never put a blanket over a Curtis kid’s head.

Fun and games gone wrong

One day my brothers, nieces, and I were playing hide and seek. My niece Jimera was “it”, while the other four of us scampered to find a place to hide. Inevitably, we all ran to the same spot: a 5×5 square foot closet in my brother’s room. Instead of fighting over who would lay claim to the ultimate hiding spot, we all decided to cram ourselves in and shut the door. She would never think that we would all be hiding in the same place.

After some time a few of us became a little… skiddish. Excited, rapid breaths quickly transitioned into shallow, anxious ones. What was taking her so long?

It was time to make the run for “home”.

I was sitting at the door, so they whispered for me to open it. I turned the knob and pushed.

Nothing.

I tried again.

Nothing.

My brother tried.

Nothing.

Suddenly, absolute panic ensued as everyone including myself (the oldest of the bunch) hysterically screamed and cried. I was terrified, of course, but feeling the terror of everyone else in that cramped space was overwhelming. It’s enough to drive a person insane! Covering my ears, I yelled, “SHUT UP! STOP IT! STOP IT!” The shrieks and sobs gradually came to a halt, and only sniffles and soft whimpers remained as I tried to muster up some courage.

“I know you’re scared, but this isn’t helping. Let’s all just call for Jimera together. I’m sure she can open it from the outside.”

Looking back, I’m sure my “come on guys, let’s do this together attitude” came from some Disney movie I’d recently watched. Within a few minutes, Jimera heard us from downstairs and came up to figure out why we seemed to have forgotten the rules of hide and seek. As she opened the door, we all tumbled out and cried and laughed as we shared the story of our misfortune.

Needless to say, not a single one of us ever used that closet as a hiding place again.

Prodding me back into the fire

Last month while we were in Kitale, our new friends Patricia and Bill gave us a copy of the book “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. Their timing couldn’t have been more perfect because after I wrote my last inner healing post, I got stuck. Maybe stuck isn’t the right word. I became unwilling to go further. Any and every excuse I could make for why I needed to skip the time set aside to lie beneath God’s magnifying glass was accepted without question. I didn’t want to deal with the mess I knew God wanted to pull out of me. It was just easier to just try to be a nice person and forget about the “healing process”.

Today, when I felt the temptation to be offended again, I decided to pick up the book. Reading the first chapter, I was encouraged to see that John also shares the need to lay down our pride and our “right to be right. (Looks liked God was speaking to me after all.)

Then this happened:

“Anyone who has trapped animals knows that a trap needs two things to be successful: It must be hidden in the hopes that an animal will stumble upon it, and it must be baited to lure the animal into the trap’s deadly jaws.”

As I reflected on this section, the Lord began to develop the image in my mind to help the application sink in.

Biting the hand that helps you

Have you ever seen an animal caught in a trap? He will flail and ferociously struggle in his panic to get free, but what usually ends up happening is either whatever damage the trap initially did becomes worse, making death  more imminent for the defenseless creature, or the animal will fight until he has spent all of his energy. If someone were to come along and try to help, out of fear, the critter will likely turn on the person. Friend or foe, he doesn’t care. He’s just scared.

God intends to lovingly and gently set me free from the trap of offense, but in my fear, I’ve been fighting to free myself, and I’ve been fighting Him. I want to be free, but I’m just scared.

Of course I didn’t know it at the time, but the Lord taught me a very powerful lesson that day I was trapped in the closet. Call on His name in trust instead of screaming out in fear. Just as my niece heard us and came to our rescue, surely He will come.

I am a fan of reinforcing revelation with song, so here’s a few worship songs for you. Much love!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EboCLdUi44 (Whisper His Name)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RmZFaruXhs (You’ll Come)

Taking the tuk tuks

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In the video we posted on transportation quite a few months ago, we showed the boda bodas (bicycles) and matatus (14 passenger vans), but we left out a few others. Motor bikes and tuk tuks. I’ve always been fascinated with the tuk tuks, but I’d never ridden one until recently. Every Tuesday now, I take one from the main road to the compound where I teach guitar lessons for a friend’s kids.

These things are pretty cool.

transportation

They’re very compact, but they come equipped with cush seating, large speakers with surround sound, and even flashing lights (the blue light on the ground in the picture actually flashes a bunch of different colors). Matatus are equipped the same way, but I prefer having a private vehicle that lets me stretch out and breathe in the fresh air as we bump along the road.

Hopefully soon we’ll get to walk you through what it’s like to ride in a matatu in the big city (our last video was done in a small town). It truly is an experience anyone who comes to Kenya must have.

In the meantime, here’s the last video on transportation if you missed it (it was one of our first vlogs, so don’t judge). I also want to point out that at the very end of the video that is a woman carrying her baby on the back of a motor bike. You see that a lot up country.

9 things I miss most about the States

My goal in coming to Kenya this first year of marriage was to get to know my husband’s culture and to learn firsthand how to understand some of the cultural expectations he might have that I could not have otherwise grasped. I’ve learned so much these seven months, and I’m grateful for that, but as time goes on, I find myself missing certain elements of my own culture.

  • Free WiFi – We have WiFi at home nowadays, but there was a time that I searched the whole of Rongai for a place where I could use my iPhone to connect with people back home. There are very few restaurants and a couple of buses that offer WiFi, but waitstaff don’t take too kindly to people ordering water while they suck up some free WiFi, and you have to get off the bus at some point.
  • Mail – The excitement of checking my mail every day used to have me anxiously watching the clock to see if the postman had graced my front porch yet. Here mail is not delivered to your door. Addresses don’t exist. There are postal stations with postal codes where you pick your mail (by the way, Kenyans say “pick” not “pick up”, so yeah, I said that right). Ours is a shared box in Nairobi with Ray’s uncle and I can’t remember the last time we checked it, so sorry if anyone has sent mail (be sure to contact me and let me know when you send something so I can go to town to get it).
  • Shorts – As vain as this sounds, I miss wearing shorts. I’ve written previously about my struggle with dressing appropriately in my “You are what you wear” posts (Part 1 & Part 2), but on really hot days I still want very badly to throw on a pair of shorts. There’s a part of me that still mourns the fact that while I live here, I will never be able to wear a pair of shorts outside of the house.
  • Driving – We don’t have a car, which isn’t too detrimental to us at this time because public transportation is so accommodating, but I haven’t driven since I left the States. I miss being able to hop in my car and go to the grocery store or to see a friend. I also miss being able to get from point A to point B in less than 15 minutes with minimal traffic. That doesn’t really exist here. Oh, it was also nice that people actually obeyed traffic laws too.
  • Candy – Oh Dollar Tree, how I miss thee. How I used to frequent your aisles and buys gads and gobs of candy to satisfy my sweet cravings. Candy here may say “Twix”, but it will most certainly not taste like the Twix I know. They have Cadbury’s, which is pretty good, but a Cadbury chocolate bar costs as much as a bag of ugali flour, which can last us a few weeks, so it’s a bit of a splurge. Aside from that, Kenyans don’t generally favor a lot of sugar in their food, so even cake just isn’t the same. We did go to a cake festival last weekend and there were some stand outs that redeemed my faith in Kenyan cake.
  • Long phone conversations – A typical Kenyan will not be on the phone longer than five minutes. The majority of phones are prepay, and people generally just top up 10-100 shillings at a time . To call someone can be 2-5 shillings per minute, so Kenyans have perfected the art of keeping phone conversations short and sweet. People constantly run out of airtime mid-conversation too, so if you don’t say what you need to say quickly, too bad.
  • Chicken – Chicken here are about half the size of our hormone filled birds, so there’s very little meat on their bones and the meat is generally pretty tough. Beef is even worse. I like to be able to swallow my meat without fully chewing. Mmm, that’s some tender stuff right there. You have to give meat here a good 10-15 chews before swallowing. That’s not always the case though. I have had some great chicken at some restaurants, and Ray’s cousin has made some of the best chicken I’ve ever had in my life (she knows her way around the kitchen). When we visit Ray’s grandparents, his grandmother gives me four pieces of chicken because she’s been to America and she knows… she knows.
fried chicken

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

  • Security – We lock our home with a padlock. I used to be able to leave my house without locking the door at all. ‘Nuff said.

I have no doubt that when we finally return to the States I’ll have a long list of things I miss from our home here in Kenya, so I appreciate all the wonderful things I’ve gained from living here, but it will be nice to get to sit in my car and talk on the phone while eating a bag of candy again some day.