My culture, my crutch: it all comes down to love

If Ray was married to someone of his own culture, he would never have to have “intense discussions” with his wife about the dishes, but since he’s not… let the games begin!

My culture, my crutch

Ray and I were warned early on in marriage to be realistic about our shortcomings as individuals and to be careful of blaming everything on cultural differences. In intercultural marriages it’s very easy to blame your negative attitude or bad behavior on culture and completely disregard your responsibility to do something about it. Just because it’s a cultural belief that you’ve held since childhood doesn’t mean it’s right or that it should take precedence over doing what you know is right.

Because the premise for this entire blog site is to share how my husband and I deal with our cultural differences, it’s clear that culture has made a huge impact on our lives. What hasn’t been clear to me is how to transcend all the recurring issues that stem from holding too tightly to cultural expectations. There are times when culture can feel a lot like law, and it becomes difficult to keep from holding it in higher regard than we hold each other. Next to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and advice from spiritual leaders, culture is one of the more dominant factors in our decision making process as a couple, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that.

It all comes down to love

I’ve shared before about how I desire to adopt a heavenly culture instead of swearing an allegiance to my own or even to my husband’s culture… and that’s about as far as that went. I made the statement, felt it was profound enough to give myself a pat on the back, and walked away from the laptop without any plan of action to make that my reality. Seven months later I’ve come full circle, and this time I aim to finish it right.

When I speak of a heavenly culture, I’m talking about a culture where love is the norm. It is deeply embedded in every relationship, every action, and every motive of the heart both spoken and unspoken. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best places to find an explicit list of what the manifestation of this culture looks like. People who are of a heavenly culture are patient, kind, they don’t envy or boast, they’re not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs, they don’t delight in evil but rejoice with truth, and they always protect, trust, hope, and persevere. Every culture has its stereotype, but this is the stereotype of those who belong to a heavenly race: they act justly, love mercy, and they walk humbly with their God.

If I really am an ambassador of heaven or an alien to this world, I should be living by the standards of my primary culture, my heavenly culture. To set this culture of love in our household means that I should serve my husband without expecting him to do a single thing in return for me. It means that I lose the right to nag about the dishes he leaves in the sink and he loses the right to complain if I don’t wash all the dishes before the ants come to do the job for me.

We’ve been doing it all wrong.

Removing the yoke of law from our marriage

In every conversation we’ve ever had about household responsibilities, we’ve relied totally on cultural expectations. I am supposed to wash the dishes because I’m the wife. It’s my job, as is everything else in the kitchen. Yes, that’s the norm for his culture, but sometimes knowing that it’s my job or my duty can cause me resent it, and honestly it can make me resent Ray when he reminds me that I’m slacking on my responsibilities. But if we operated under the norms of our heavenly culture, there would be no need for either of us to nag each other, because we’d naturally pick up the slack (without keeping record of anyone’s failures), and if we’re truly loving and serving each other to the fullest, there shouldn’t be much slack to pick up.

One of the love reminders I've put around the house to remind us of home.

One of the love postings I’ve put around the house to remind us of home.

Side note: I know I just posted a blog about serving with the knowledge that one day you will receive a return on your investment, and that’s still true, but I’m just saying that love can understand the reality of the “you reap what you sow” cycle and still say, “Even if I don’t receive a return, my time serving was well spent.”

Dishes may seem like sort of a trivial application for the love culture, but this principle applies to all areas of marriage. In this particular area we were trying to strategize about how to go about dealing with the dishes: I do them on the weekdays and he does them on the weekends, but we are responsible for doing our own dishes as we use them, unless you take the dishes for the other person into the kitchen, then you wash both, and blah, blah, bliggety, blah. Isn’t that gross? Coming to the realization of how love removes the “need” for law, shuts down the whole conversation. Forget all the guidelines and amendments, just love each other and it will naturally balance itself out. I’ll show honor to my husband and fulfill his expectations of me without having to beat myself up so much about my shortcomings as an American trying to fit into Kenyan culture.

Just as Jesus came to remove the yoke of law from our necks and offer himself as the purest demonstration of love, when we seek to love, the pressure of cultural law is lifted.

Love fulfills everything. Love covers all. Love never fails.

A special word from the mentor we often quote

Throughout the short life of this blog (5 months now, including our Weebly genesis), we have shared various tidbits of wisdom about intercultural marriage from a mentor who thus far has gone unnamed. Today we’ve asked that mentor, Pastor Anthony Odhiambo, to share a few words of encouragement for our readers. This topic is one he’s drilled into our heads many times, and it has become pivotal not only in helping us communicate as a couple, but also for the purposes of hashing out our future endeavors. We hope you’re just as blessed by what he shares as we have been.

The importance of goals in a family
As two individuals come to the agreement of sharing their lives together, the last thing on their mind is goal setting. Instead, the majority of couples will tell you how much they love each other and what they imagine marriage will be like, and they truly expect their lives to turn out that way. At this point you can clearly see that these individuals may be living in a fantasyland, because love is a choice. If they expect their lives to be that way, they better have a plan to keep it that way. You can only expect what you inspect.

A time will inevitably come when the lady who once was sweet and charming becomes a nuisance, keeping you from living a life of freedom. On the other hand, the man whom you couldn’t wait to spend all your time with has become a road block to your destiny, causing you to figure out ways to fulfill your destiny without him. This is but one of the challenges that occurs when a man and a woman determine to share their lives together.

Proverbs 29:18 states that “where there is no vision (divine revelation), the people run wild/perish/are exposed. But happy are those who follow God’s teachings.” From this verse we discover that there is a teaching which, if followed, will bring happiness and blessing to our lives and keep our marriages from destruction. So before people decide that they want to get married, the first thing they ought to do is sit down and come up with goals for their marriage—both long term and short term. These goals are simply guidelines that direct you to your destiny as a family. They give you a purpose to work towards in unity and love. These goals are not just one’s desire imposed on another, neither are they one’s dream imposed on another to fulfill, but they are the desires of both the man and the woman who have decided to share their lives together.

These goals should be:

Realistic
Most people set goals that are not achievable. When they do so, they claim that they believe God will help them achieve it. The fact that we are spiritual beings does not mean that we don’t have brains. We have freewill to choose what we want, and God respects that, but you don’t have to tempt the Lord or invite unnecessary stress and worry into your life. So for the success of your marriage, take time to plan for it. The best house is the one that has a proper plan with properly laid out foundations. Likewise, a good family is one that has principles that are well understood and have been developed and nurtured along the way.

Clearly Understood
Always make your goals simple. I have talked to some people who have goals that are all over the place. They begin at one point then pause it, and then they begin the second point and pause it as well. Very soon these individuals will be burying their heads in the sand in their search for direction. Simply be directional in your goals. Let your family have a clear purpose to live for. And be sure that your family isn’t competing with other families, but that they understand what their goal is.

Un-burdensome
Never make the mistake of picking a goal that you never mean to fully accomplish. Have you ever applied for a job you didn’t really like? How did you feel waking up in the morning getting ready to go to work as opposed to how you felt when it was time to go back home? If you have a job that you are more excited to get back home from than you are excited to attend, then you are in the wrong place, and your attitude will be terribly affected. In the same way, you don’t want to be in a marriage that you dread to come home to that turns spending time with your spouse into a box to be checked off your list. Please understand that spending time with your spouse shouldn’t be something we dread, but something you love to do. Your goals shouldn’t keep you from spending time with each other, nor should they create an environment of selfishness. Any goal one is planning to achieve should be thoroughly talked over with the spouse and given their full support. Remember these goals are to make you work together effectively and draw you closer to each other having a common vision/purpose and not to cause a strain. It is the unity in the relationship that brings strength. At times there could be no desire in performing the required goal, but as long as there is support and unity both will be able to achieve it.

Very specific
Always, always be very specific with your goals. There are couples who are not very specific about the amount they want to spend on a vehicle or the model of the vehicle they are looking for. As a result, they may end up with a good vehicle with a high payment or a cheap vehicle with a lot of problems. That is why they should both do their assignment of educating themselves on different kind of vehicles, their mileage, the availability of parts, etc. After you have done your assignment, then you can make a concrete decision based on knowledge and desires together.

These goals will help give you a purpose in life. I can guarantee you that those who don’t have goals will end up having a marriage that is very shaky and without peace. After coming up with the goals, make sure that you write them down. Habakkuk 2:2 tells us to “write the vision down and make it clear” so that whoever sees it may run with it. So many people have their goals in their head and most of the time, they forget about it and even begin to wonder why on earth their marriage isn’t helping them accomplish those goals. The moment you write your goals down and place them in places where you can see them, they give you a sense of direction, and as you begin to accomplish the short term goals, you begin to have security and fulfillment in your marriage. You begin to see the purpose you both were meant for unfolding before your eyes.

I would like to encourage you to make necessary adjustments to see your marriage fulfill its purpose before your eyes. For those who have not set up goals, it’s never too late to begin. You can get together and have a plan. I hope this will help some of you. Stay blessed and I wish you the best.

Pastor Anthony

How S’ambrosia is getting her groove back

Image

20140521-235213-85933570.jpg

Just so you know, today’s topic won’t be incredibly novel to most of you, especially if you’re a married Christian woman. In fact, it’s likely that you’ve discussed this issue with your friends or read about it within the past few weeks. A friend of mine even added her perspective to the mix just last week (check it out).

As was typical of me, prior to actually being married, I believed that this could never happen to me.

But alas and alack, it did.

Now, I’m not saying folk music is the devil, but…

I should have known something was up when it came time for us to move and I had to reduce the amount of songs I had on my dad’s computer to fit into my flash drive. The anxiety-ridden task of choosing which songs to delete and which ones to keep was one I had to perform in a small amount of time, so rash decisions were made and inevitably, regret ensued.

My music library contained a combination of worship songs – like the intense kind of worship that makes you want to weep until assuming the fetal position or rocking back and forth incessantly is the only source of comfort you can find – and some rad folk music. I had just recorded an album and was looking to create more music that could hang with current trends, so I figured that listening to some popular stuff would help me make that happen; therefore, I ended up deleting most of the worship songs to make room for the folk songs. So ultimately I came to Kenya with very few worship songs in tow. Apparently I had completely forgotten how big of a role worship music plays in my devotional life.

Jesus is Lord over iTunes too

Whenever I’m doing chores around the house, it’s a given that music will be playing. Now that we have WiFi in the house, my iPhone has revoked its paperweight status and become a useful smartphone again… around the house at least. (It’s difficult to access WiFi elsewhere.) Anyway, because of the wonderful iCloud feature, any song that I’ve ever bought on iTunes is automatically available to stream on my iPhone, even if I deleted it in a temporary lapse of judgment.

As I was washing dishes the other day, a bunch of those intense worship songs that I thought I had lost forever began to play successively at the behest of the shuffle button on my phone, and as each song played, my face got uglier and uglier as I struggled to sing the lyrics through my tears. Songs about an intimate covenant with God played, reminding me of a time when I could hear such words and not feel like they were a foreign language. Songs of joy regarding the freedom we experience when the rivers of God rush into the lowest place came up next, opening my eyes to the drought my soul has been experiencing.

That night I could do nothing but whisper to God, “I miss You.” And there I was, back in the fetal position again.

Oh Lord, I don’t want to be one in this number when the saints go marching in

If you haven’t guessed it yet, I have fallen into the category of women who feel like marriage has cause their relationship with God to decline. Okay, maybe caused is strong verbiage, but I can at least say that marriage sometimes pits itself against God when it comes to my daily priorities and decision making abilities.

Now, like any other woman who’s talked about this issue, I’m not blaming my husband. As I’ve mentioned before, he does a great job of keeping us on track with our Bible discussions as a couple, which is key to our growth in God, but that does not take the place of my one-on-one time with the Lord. I mean, as much as we are one flesh, I still have to stand before God one day and give account of my actions as an individual. He still expects us to search Him out and to seek to commune with Him on a daily basis, regardless of what our marital status may be.

Ray is gone for most of the day, so I have plenty of time to saturate myself in the goodness of God.  What have I been doing instead, you wonder? Well, first thing in the morning, I pull out my iPhone. Then I get on the laptop and start working on transcriptions or writing. Transcriptions usually take hours to complete, sometimes even a full day, so before I know it, it’s late and  I have to hurry and clean the house before Ray gets home so I can pretend like I’m a responsible wife. We have Bible study before bed, and sometimes I get some cool revelation and sometimes I don’t, but it depends on my attitude and how open I am to receive it. There are days where I yawn through the whole thing and I just want to get back on the laptop. Honestly, the longer I spend neglecting my personal devotional time with the Lord, the more frequently those kinds of days occur.

Remembering the good ‘ole days

The height of intimacy in my relationship with God was definitely my college years. It was my joy to spend hours in worship exploring new ways to encounter the beauty of Christ or to read the Bible and get crazy revelations to journal or share with friends. In those moments my heart felt like it was thriving in the fullness of Christ. Even writing this now, my heart feels so crusty and cold in comparison. There was a time I could feel the weight of God’s presence when I would worship. Does being married mean I have to say goodbye to that? I should hope not.

My friends used to tell me about how marriage and family affect their devotional life with God, and I would think, “Well, duh, you have to make time.” It always seemed like such an easy fix to me when I was single. Now that I’m married, I can’t concede and say that they were right and it’s difficult; I just have to step in front of them so I’m the first one in line to receive the finger wagging from other single ladies.

I’m not as busy as I tend to proclaim I am. Yes, I have a lot of responsibilities between work and taking care of my husband and home, but those things don’t keep me busy every second of the day. When I wake up in the morning I can spend time with God, I just don’t feel like it. When I get online and hours go by with me just reading random schtuff that has no significant bearing on my life, I could be spending that time with God. When I refuse to stop playing Candy Crush until I’ve used all of the lives alloted to me, I could be spending that time chatting it up with God. Sometimes I even just lie in bed and do nothing. I could at least be living in an awareness of God’s nearness to me.

My contribution to the conversation

As I’ve been typing this blog, I quickly realized that I didn’t actually have a point. I even ended my first draft by typing, “I don’t know how to end this… is there an answer or am I just venting?” I had to walk away from the computer for a while to get what seems like too simple of a response from the Lord. It came in the form of a Scripture:

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

All of those excuses we give for why we can neglect our time with the Lord seem valid at the time, or at least we can talk ourselves into believing that they’re valid, but what would happen if instead of choosing a nap, I chose to renew my strength by meeting with Christ in our secret place? Or what if I woke up in the morning and turned to gaze upon the fairest of ten thousand instead of turning on the television? I know we like to use television as a way to unwind or defragment, if you will, but I want to learn to defragment by pressing into Jesus.

Learning to implement these desires in this phase of my life has been and will be a challenge, but I’m tired of telling God how much I miss Him before I go on about my business and my plans for the day. It’s definitely about time this girl got her groove back.

Who wears the pants in your family?: a co-blog

IMG_6156

Before we got married, Ray and I received very similar warnings:

“Be careful of American women. They’re very controlling.”

“Be careful of African men. They’re very controlling.”

To say the least, these well meant presages have created some very interesting dynamics within our relationship.

Revisiting the power of words (S’ambrosia)

I’ve written about the power of words before in the “Oh Be Careful, Little Mouth” post that went semi-viral (1,000 views within a few days is pretty exciting for a fledgling writer like myself), but I didn’t realize until recently just how much those “beware, take care” conversations had affected our relationship well before we were married. When you have statements like that repeated to you frequently, and by people you love and respect, it becomes very easy to slip into misinterpreting or even demonizing the actions of your spouse.

During my time in Kenya prior to our engagement, I came to know Ray as a big ole’ squishy teddy bear. He was the most amiable guy I’d ever met with a mammoth sized heart of compassion that was bent on serving others before himself (even to the point of being taken advantage of). It wasn’t until I came back home and announced my engagement, that I began to see him in a different light, as various people emerged out of the woodwork to warn me about how mean African men are to women. For the longest time I tried to defend Ray and explain to people that when they met him they would see for themselves that he wasn’t at all like what they described, but my attempts were to no avail. They would give me those “knowing” nods and tell me that they’d pray for me, and I would leave the conversation slightly frustrated, but impacted all the same.

I never knew how bad the impact was until Ray and I would talk on the phone or Skype.

All of a sudden, everything he said was offensive to me, and every single word had a subversive meaning behind it. I became paranoid about whether or not he had ulterior motives for marrying me, and I frequently voiced the concern (not really my concern, but the concern other people had drilled into my head) that he would change after we married.

At the same time, Ray was voicing concerns of his own…

What’s going on in the kitchen? (Ray)

Knowing the culture I was marrying into, I was scared at first because of what everybody around me was saying. I heard things like: your wife won’t let you see your family and friends or your wife will make you wash her panties. The list was endless.  I remember my friend from the States, after I told him I was marrying an American, told me that one thing I should keep in mind is that they should always have their way. Discouraging, right? I tried to safeguard myself from statements like this, but they were confirmed one day by a personality inventory we took from a pre-martial counseling packet. One of my highest traits was the lion, a decision maker who is determined, confident, and likes to take charge. Guess what my wife was. She was a lion too. Needless to say, I was a little bit discouraged.

In our culture a wife is responsible for all the household chores, while the husband is in charge of decision making, manual labor or technical work, and of course providing the daily bread. There was a time that African men never went into the kitchen. If a man was ever spotted in the kitchen, he would be the talk of the village; some would even say that his wife is a “control freak” or that ” that man is the woman in that family”, to list but a few. Even if the wife was the breadwinner, we do have some cases of that here, and the husband stayed home, he would hire a house girl to go in the kitchen. With that kind of background, you can imagine how worried I was about what life would look like for me and my American lioness here in Kenya, but I was relieved when my wife told me that she believes that she is the one to take care of the house (even though washing utensils and laundry is not her thing, lol) and merely requested that I would be helping whenever I could. That was one less fight for us to have.

More than a stereotype (S’ambrosia)

As Ray shared, we eventually discovered that control actually would be an issue for us, not because he’s African and I’m American, but because it’s simply the nature of who we are as individuals. We don’t doubt that our cultures have influenced our personalities to some extent, but at least now we can speak about our control issues on a level that goes beyond the cultural stereotypes. Unfortunately, we still hear comments from people who only see me as a typical American stereotype, but once again we have advice from one of our mentors to fall back on. He encouraged us to be each other’s champion. When people from Ray’s culture harp on me for being too “American”, it’s his job to defend me, not mine. The same applies for him. The logic behind that is that when you’re dealing with people of your own culture, it’s easier for them to dismiss an issue when you address it as opposed to when your spouse does. They’ll forgive you quicker than they will him. This has been another great piece of advice that has really helped us stay afloat in either country. It’s also pretty neat to see my husband stand up for me amongst his peers. It really does wonders for my love tank.

Working out the kinks (Ray)

Through the help of our mentors, we also discovered that for an intercultural marriage like ours to work, though I believe the same applies to any marriage, there was a need to create our own culture as a couple. This means we had to  come up with our own set of rules to govern our marriage.  Some rules favored my wife, and some favored me, but above all we had to be accommodating. Even though my wife has agreed to the duty of being a home maker, I have personally made it a rule over the weekends to give her a break from all the duties in the house. It’s still easy for me to do this because we are just the two of us, so I am not afraid of people laughing at me (Sam: this is a legit fear that he has), but what is more important is the fact that we agree on something beforehand, and we do our level best to ensure that we honor our promises. As far as  decision making is concerned, yes I know am the head of the house, but we both have a right to give input, so long as in the end we have each others blessing, even though some decisions may be hard to bear for the moment.

(S’ambrosia) Although part of the Wasike culture involves shared decision making, a very real and current struggle we have with overcoming some of the things people have said/say to us has been Ray’s fear of exerting any control over me in certain situations. Before we were married, some people told him that if he did something I didn’t like, I would get on a plane, go back home, and leave him. No matter how much I tell him I’ll never do that, he can’t shake the doubt. So there are times we will discuss issues and I’ll argue my point, and to keep from having to deal with me getting too upset about how controlling he is, he’ll just say, “Okay, do whatever you want,” and drop the conversation completely. In his mind he’s keeping the peace and appeasing his cray cray wife, but in my mind he’s giving up the right to use his God-given authority as the head of our house. Truth be told, I actually want my husband to boss me around. I don’t mean that in the sense that I want him to be domineering or controlling (you can unfurrow your brows, ladies), but I want to be able to look up to see my husband at the helm of this marriage with one hand in God’s and other in mine and feel nothing but trust in his leadership capabilities. It’s hard to trust your husband’s leadership when he’s always putting you in that role to keep you from bursting into angry dances all over the house.

I have since given Ray total permission to exercise his authority over me without fear, even if it means I have to perform an angry dance or two. I may be throwing a fit, but secretly I’m admiring his ability to lead me in the best way he sees fit. Of course it’s incredibly baffling to him to hear me say something like that when he knows that me giving him authority doesn’t mean that I won’t argue my case until I need to pause for a water break, but he’s coming to understand that just because I want to make sure that I make my points known doesn’t mean that I won’t adhere to his plan. It’s just nice to know that he values my input.

We’re definitely still working this out; my husband is only on book 7 of “How to understand the convolutedness of your wife”, but God is faithful and He really has been teaching us both so much about submitting to one another in love. In turn we’ve agreed to just ditch the pants and clothe ourselves in garments of humility and servitude instead.