2 months in

Our son turns 2 months old tomorrow! We praise the Lord for keeping him happy and healthy. We are so blessed!

Becoming a parent has been an experience quite unlike anything else I’ve experienced thus far. I really can’t even think of what I could liken it to. Our son’s only been in the world for 2 months but I can’t imagine life without him – it’s like him being here is just RIGHT!

He has smiles to melt your heart! But he’s camera-shy (seriously) so we can’t share the heart-warming smile with you.
And he’s already quite the goofball. haha. I really like his personality! Which is crazy to see what a unique individual he is even though he was incubated in my belly!

As for lessons I’ve learned so far…:

1. Every child is different: There is no rigid formula for how to raise your child because every child is different. I spent a lot of time stressing over how many hours our son was not sleeping during the day…or how many times he should want to nurse…But every child is different! The average number of hours that a newborn sleeps is just that – an AVERAGE – based on parents’ reporting on how many hours their newborns sleep. And the goal for how many times your baby nurses is to ensure that your child is well fed and hydrated – not to force feed your child! Seems so obvious now that I reached that conclusion, but it took a lot of stress and shaking off apparent expectations to realize that all I’m striving for is a happy, healthy, holy child!

2. Take the time to look at your baby because your child looks different everyday. And if he looks different everyday, that means his changing each moment. I worried for a while about spoiling our son by giving him too much attention and affection. Maybe I’d hold him too much, hug him too often, gaze lovingly at him too intently…But then I thought, if today were the only day I got to spend with my son, how would I want to spend it? I’d want him to know that I love him and that God loves him!

3. It’s not about getting him to fit into my world – the fact that he is here now has created a whole new world that we must both learn to navigate. He cannot sleep through the night yet and needs to nurse every few hours…that means my schedule must adjust. I cannot rock him to sleep for each nap so he’s got to adjust.

Why I Love Being a Seventh-day Adventist

love

My friend, Jo, started this thing…a challenge to think about what we love about being Seventh-day Adventist, and I like the idea! So here are my top 5, unsorted:

It makes you stand out: For a long time, I thought it was because I was the fourth out of five children that I longed to be recognized. Now I’m sure that was part of the reason! But I’ve also discovered in humanity, in general, a desire to be acknowledged as individuals. The peculiar lifestyle engendered in Seventh-day Adventism combined with the unique ways in which we all incorporate those peculiarities makes for very individually unique Seventh-day Adventists. I like that.

It makes you fit in: I am convinced that there is not a belief system that Seventh-day Adventists have nothing in common with! Baptism by immersion like Baptists; Dietary restrictions like the Muslims; The Sabbath like the Jews; Freedom of choice like the gay rights movement; Sanctity of life like the pro-life movement;  A powerful devil like the Satanists…Just to name a few. We can find allies across any isle without compromising the integrity of our message. I like that.

It makes sharing Jesus easy: The combination of our uniqueness with our relatability makes for natural opportunities to share about the reason we are the way we are – the reason being Jesus. To a fellow Christians, dietary restrictions may be a cause for consternation which may open the door to a practical conversation on the intersection of faith and works. Whereas the same dietary restrictions may produce a bond of camaraderie with a Muslim sister which could fuel further opportunities to share the reasons for our faith. I’ll knock on doors to find those looking for Jesus if I have to, but, truth-be-told, I’d rather not have to!

It just makes sense: While  I was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, my parents made it clear that being Seventh-day Adventist was their choice and I would have to make my own choice someday. If the faith they had espoused made sense to me, they would be happy for me to stick with it. But if I found something more compelling in my search, they would support my decision to leave. Though a scary freedom at times, that permission from my parents allowed me to grapple with difficult questions from a young age: How do I even know that God exists in the first place? What if my own existence is an illusion? Would I prefer to live a happy lie or a miserable reality? Assuming very many things and God, I and others do exist in reality, why is Seventh-day Adventism the right religion? Is there only one right religion? Having grappled with these and many other questions, I am still a Seventh-day Adventist! I still practice the freedom my parents afforded me and grapple with more questions concerning my faith, but I now stand firmly as a Seventh-day Adventist.

It makes family the world over: It’s simply exhilarating to be able to connect with people from literally, all over the world, because we belong to the same faith! I have, at times, found closer relationships with Seventh-day Adventists from across the world than with fellow countrymen. Not being restricted in my associations to people of the same hue of skin or shape of eyes allows me to experience the beauty of the world, taste its diversity of foods and improve my own culturally engendered practices. No matter where I go in the world, when I meet a Seventh-day Adventist, I have met family.

Why do you love being Seventh-day Adventist?

Live in the Tension: Marriage

As a single young person with a desire to live wholly for God, there’s a tension that develops with respect to marriage. It goes something like this:

Thesis: Jesus is all the world to me. He is my soul-sufficiency. Take the world, but give me Jesus – all its joys are but a name. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.

Antithesis: God said that it is not good for man to be alone. Two are better than one because thy have a good reward for their labor…Woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. He who finds a wife, finds a good thing.

Tension: The experience of loneliness indicates an existential deficiency. But if you have God as the center of your life, and find in Him your all in all, should He not be sufficient to supply the companionship that your loneliness betrays. Yet on the other hand, it is God who created us as relational beings so it isn’t sinful to desire human companionship. How do you reconcile the two?

Tendency: So our tendency is to lean more in one direction or the other. One side will tell young people that these feelings of loneliness betray their lack of a complete surrender to Christ which is something to be repented of. They must refocus their attention on Jesus and His work, and He will fill that void. The other side will tell you that it is God’s will for everyone to get married so that at this stage in life, to do God’s will means to focus your energies on finding a spouse.

The Problem:

1. The culture I am currently immersed in leans on the “marriage is God’s will” side, so I’ll address that one first. Clearly, marriage is God’s ideal as seen in the unfallen world but it is neither a fundamental human right nor is it necessary for salvation. Once sin entered the equation of human experience, the game changed. Our time on earth is probationary for the purpose of securing our own decisions for eternity and the decisions of others through evangelism. Everything God does in our lives here is to that end, and everything a Christian does ought to be to the same end. Take a chapter from the life of Christ and you’ll find that it is possible to fulfill God’s will for your life without ever being married.

2. The culture I came from before entering this one, often leaned towards the “repent of your loneliness” side. The call to repentance was often accompanied by appeals for deeper engagement in God’s work. However, this, I have seen, lead to a superficial Christianity that is completely detached from the reality of one’s own genuine experience with God. Moreover, it is an unbiblical demonization of a natural human inclination. You can only cover up this very real desire for human companionship for so long, and when sufficient pressure builds up, in bursting form I’ve seen my friends opt for relationships that God would not commend.

Synthesis: Given that I’ve presented a thesis and antithesis, what would logically follow in this section is a synthesis, but I don’t find that the solution is any form of synthesis to relieve the tension held between these two experiences. The answer to this problem is “yes” and “yes”. The single Adventist must both acknowledge their yearning for companionship and find their sufficiency in Christ. How to do that is what I offer as the solution.

Counterfeit: Unfortunately, Adventist culture has come to view marriage as the sum-total of Christian community and the cure to loneliness. You feel lonely? Let’s find you a spouse! It’s like marriage has come to be viewed as a graduation certificate from the lonely club. Then the marrieds, knowing the pain of loneliness they experienced as singles, sympathize with their still single friends and make every effort to rescue them from their pain by constantly reminding them that they need to find a spouse.

But here’s the deal. I know way too many married folk who are still lonely. Except that now their plight is worse off because they have nothing further to look to as a cure. Some keep looking, futilely, to their spouse to “fill that void” and their spouse’s continued failure results in marital dissatisfaction. Some decide to have children who will keep you busy enough to forget your loneliness and who, at least for their younger years, will always be there for you, mitigating that feeling of loneliness. Observing this, I have concluded that marriage is not really the Christian solution.

Solution: What we are aiming at when we suggest marriage as a solution for loneliness is actually community. Christian community where marrieds and singles, young and old, find love and acceptance. Where the very real human need to spend time with other humans in fellowship is met, while communally acknowledging Christ as the ultimate source supplying every need. What this means is that married folk actually spend time with single folk. And the goal of single folk in going to church is not merely to find a spouse but to connect with fellow Christians in authentic spiritual fellowship.

In the context of Christian community (aka church) the marriage question is then placed in its proper place. God is sufficient to meet all our needs and has already made provision for our need for human interaction through Christian community. (Oh I could say so much about community so I’ll reserve my comments for another blog post.) I realize though, that we do not always have the benefit of good Christian community – hence living in the tension. Without denying our need for human companionship, we find our soul-sufficiency in Christ.

ps: you know how in Gethsemane Jesus yearned for fellowship in His sufferings but the disciples fell asleep on him, THREE times? Well, what did God end up doing to support Jesus? He sent an angel to minister to Him. Be faithful, trust God, and if it becomes necessary, God will even send an angel to provide the companionship you need!

At least two more blogs on living in the tension are forthcoming. One on the tension of sanctification and another on the theological tension of biblical revelation. Keep thinking with me…!

Why I’m Glad I Attended a Women’s College

From childhood, I just always had this desire to accomplish much (I think all kids are like that…!) and the epitome of success, in every sphere that interested me, seemed always to come in the male gender. Name the profession, and the most successful in the field seemed always to be a man. To be successful, I unwittingly concluded, you had to be a man.

So intense was my desire to succeed, that I determined to integrate as much of the male socialization into my self-guided enculturation as possible. I’d hang out around the car with Daddy as soon as I could get out of the kitchen, watching closely to absorb how a “real man” behaves.

It came to the point where my mother and two older sisters had to organize an intervention of sorts… “It’s ok to cry” was their clarion appeal. Not that I never cried. But I was careful to mask my tears, mimicking the behavior of the men I had observed in situations that might elicit tears. The message had reached me loud and clear that shedding tears was a sign of weakness. And the weak never succeed…

Wellesley was the first time I remember seeing women of intellect, with drive, passion and vision being celebrated. My science professors were women. The university administrators were women. Of course there were men too. But it was just inspiring to see women in roles that I had grown up associating with maleness.

Conversations with my Wellesley sisters were also of a different caliber. Before, female discourse seemed, of necessity, to center around men, family and, friendship. At Wellesley we talked about faith, politics, philosophy, social justice issues, food… 🙂 Not that we NEVER talked about men… But boy-talk was not the conversational highlight that really got a lunch table going.

The appreciation I gained for women’s contribution to the world is inestimable. In a nutshell, I guess you could say that I experienced the breadth of a woman’s intellectual capabilities. And discovered that women, as women, are capable of critically engaging their world for its betterment.

Probably the chiefest lesson gleaned through my Wellesley experience and moreso, in the friendships nurtured thereafter, is that you don’t have to be a man to be successful. But that statement requires a bit of unpacking.

You see, there are successes that society celebrates, then there are those that go unnoticed. A father who is involved in his children’s rearing, for instance, is not celebrated in the same way that a workaholic man climbing the corporate ladder is. The organizational skills of a mother who runs an orderly household are not as highly celebrated as those of an event planner.

So in my childhood, I only counted those things as successes that I saw being celebrated as such. It took me seeing women in the roles I had come to associate with success to believe that it was even possible for a woman to attain to such a thing as success. But time has taught me that society does not necessarily celebrate true success. And that the successes of women often fall into those categories that go uncelebrated.

So I wonder out loud (or out write)… What if, rather than trying to attain to what the world calls success, we worked to redefine success. Instead of trying to fit women  into the mold of success concocted by a deluded society, what if we set a new agenda. Interacting with Wellesley women taught me that women are capable of not only attaining to those benchmarks society calls success, but of taking it a step further and shaping the world they are a part of.

This challenge, especially behooves upon Christian women who actually believe in a Creator God who designs with purpose in mind. Success, inasmuch as it devolves upon accomplishing set goals, would be defined by the goals God has in mind for women to attain to. We need a new standard for success (which is actually the old standard if we’re talking about God’s ideal). Dare I say that this redefinition is as much needed for men as for women!

I’m dissatisfied with the status quo. We can do so much better. We must. And by God’s grace, if we are willing, at least within the culture of the church, we shall. And the development of this dissatisfaction is precisely why I’m glad I attended a women’s college.

Are we using the right standard?

Are we using the right standard?

Twenties’ Top Three Regrets

My days as a thirty year old are numbered. And thoughts of entering my thirty-somethings has me reflecting on my twenties – the good, the bad and the ugly. Well, mostly the bad and the ugly actually. After this post I promised myself to turn my focus to the good so I can give God the glory He deserves. And yet, even in the bad and ugly, God shines through as a faithful Friend and Father!

Now, let me preface this (I’m the queen of prefaces by the way and my prefacing skills are only being honed by academia! haha). Several years ago, I had a conversation with someone who told me that he had absolutely no regrets from his life. Well, then, you’ve lived a perfect life, I retorted. To which he responded that it’s not that his life had been perfect, but that he had seen God work, even through his mistakes.

A post about regrets does not discount the marvelous ways in which God gives beauty for ashes. Quite the contrary! If you don’t realize that what you brought to the table was ashes, you won’t truly appreciate the beauty God’s created. So I will not go into details about my sooty, nasty, ashes, but they’re part of my testimony of the grace, mercy and kindness of God to me! Funny thing is, even though they’re different, all the regrets are the same…Anyways,

here we go:

1. Academics

Truth be told, I scraped my way through college. Not for lack of mental aptitude. But somehow, between middle school and college, I lost my focus. There were glimpses of potential along the way, but I failed to improve my opportunities. Knowing now, as I do, that our excellent performance in the classroom is a witness for God, my heart aches for the impact I could have had on my schoolmates! Wasted opportunities galore. All because I did not have the discipline to apply myself to the task God had given to me.

2. Boys

Every single dating relationship I have had registers as a regret (well, maybe with one exception…maybe). Each time, I went into it without consulting God. Each time someone got hurt. Sometimes I knew, beyond a doubt, it was not the right thing to do but I did it anyway, in spite of counsel to the contrary from dear friends, the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. I regret the unnecessary and irreparable damage done because of my stubborn insistence on having things my way.

3. Calling

During my sophomore year of college, I sensed God calling me to take a year off of school to get Campus Ministry training. There were practical and logical reasons why I shouldn’t…but then there was the call!
I didn’t obey.
The next year was probably the worst year of my 20s – I almost lost my faith altogether. I should have obeyed. No matter what the cost. Nothing is worth losing God for!

These are not the only awful things I’ve done in my life. Oh no, no, not by a long shot. But, I think I most regret these because in each instance, it was clear to me the right thing to do but I chose to disobey. How does a Christian explain the choice to disobey God? I can’t! It makes no sense. It’s like Ellen White says in the Great Controversy:

“Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin.” GC  492

Yet through all the foolishness of my twenties, God stuck with me. He stuck with me. And He is still with me. What a faithful God we serve! It is my privilege to love Him.

culture shock

Berrien Springs is awesome! No, I’m not being sarcastic. Yes, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Yes, there are only 4 or 5 places to eat out. And yes, the air on campus sometimes smells like cow dung. haha. But those are the very things I love about this place. Well, I could live without the dung smell, but it’s a package deal, I guess. What can I say? I’m a small-town girl!

But the culture of this place came as a bit of a shocker to me. I’m not talking about small town culture where everybody knows everybody’s business and they’re all up in your business. That stuff I can handle. Actually, I don’t mind it so much – that’s just what happens when you live in community eh. I’ll take that problem over the New York syndrome any day (where you’re constantly around people but nobody knows what’s going on in your life). Although maybe something in between would be perfect…

What shocked me was that there is an Adventist bubble culture! It’s taken me months to try and synthesize my thoughts on this and still I’m struggling to describe it. In part, I think it’s because I’m not sure what is characteristic of seminary culture and what is universal to the campus and moreover, what is true of other Adventist colleges in America because I’ve only ever experienced the seminary here. In conversation with students in undergrad and in other professional schools, though, I’ve come to think most of it is campus-wide at least.

My shock centers around interpersonal relationships and last week I was finally able to find the word to describe the missing element: Authenticity. Would I go so far as to say that everyone is a phony? No. But it’s like there’s an extra layer of…I don’t know what…that you have to get through before you’re actually talking to the real person! And it’s not that this is the only place where I’ve experienced that, but this is the only place where well over 90% of my interactions are marked by that challenge.

It may be too early in my experience here to pinpoint the source of this lack of authenticity. But by the time I complete my studies here, I fear I may have slipped into the culture and wouldn’t be able to articulate my findings. Oh the humanity.

Maybe it’s something to do with the smallness of this place? People are careful to expose themselves because rejection by a few people in a small place significantly impacts your chances of acceptance. Maybe it’s related to the perceived standards Adventists hold? Everyone simultaneously wants to push the limit and yet lives in fear of crossing the line, but they don’t know where the line is.

Whatever the cause, that extra layer of who-knows-what has proved a challenge to my integration process. At first I thought it was that I needed to make more friends, meet more people. There was some truth to that! But now I must meet many more people to find the 10%… Or, it takes more time to get through that extra layer so as to have meaningful interactions. So much work!

This extra layer phenomenon is so pervasive at my school that I don’t think one person could change it. But this is not one of those situations where if you can’t beat them, join them. So I’ll have to accept the challenge of developing authentic relationships even in this place. May God help me!

Gratitude underlies Giving

Never before had I thought of myself as coming from a place of privilege. Why, by international standards, I grew up below the poverty line. I’m a candidate for aid! Am I not?

During the time of my education at Wellesley College, though, I began to detest the aid mentality. Of course we’re indebted to help each other. What I abhor is the mentality that looks at “poor Africans” and wants to help the inferior…Or the African mindset of entitlement that says, “you colonized us and robbed us of our resources and created arbitrary borders, so now you owe us to build us up.”

When I first moved to North America, the temptation was to play into the aid mentality and describe my homeland in language that solicited sympathy. It has taken years of internal struggle to learn how to present the realities of my background with fairness. That struggle has involved a change of worldview, an obliteration of entitlement and victim mentality, and a faith in what Africans are capable of (I say faith because in too many instances, as evidenced by political turmoil and financial mismanagement, we have yet to see a demonstration of the capability).

In spite of these strides in my own thinking, this is the first time I have tackled my relative privilege and its implications for my life. Although my family was never well off, we’ve always been better off than others. My parents have a substantial backyard, for instance, and my mother always shared of the fruits and vegetables with others who had no land to grow their own and couldn’t afford it otherwise.

Yet we are always striving for more…for better…And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! It’s in our DNA to strive to improve ourselves. The problem is when we our striving lacks gratitude…when our striving is only to better ourselves with no thought of those in a position worse than ours – and you’d be shocked to learn that no matter how badly you’re doing, someone’s doing worse!

Realizing that you are privileged lays a burden on you to give of yourself to help others. Then your striving to improve is only so that you can be of greater assistance to those without. Instead of working for greater comfort in this life, you work for more opportunities to serve. That attitude of sacrifice is born of a spirit of gratitude.

So goodbye to the victim mentality that says, “help me, I’m a poor African” (or an oppressed black man…or an ostracized Asian…or a poor anything at that!). And hello to the Christian mindset that recognizes God’s tremendous blessings and accepts the inherent challenge to give to others of what I have freely received.

we always have something to be thankful for

we always have something to be thankful for

joy

Last week, my family welcomed to the world my second niece – baby No-Name Nhari 🙂 After a very difficult pregnancy in which she was mostly bed-ridden, my sister was too weak to push the 5.7lbs bundle of joy into the world. But thanks to vacuum suction, baby No-Name entered the world with no other complications than a little jaundice – which, by folklore is attributed to her Mom eating too much tripe during pregnancy…

As you can imagine, the entire family is ecstatic! Something about this type of good news bonds a family together. It’s the opposite of losing a loved one but has the same stickiness factor – that is, you know family best understands how you feel. There’s something comforting about that.

I thought to describe the joy that I’ve experienced and came to realize that the joy of welcoming a new life into the family is its own descriptor. You can’t liken it to any other joy. Rather, you’d use it as a hallmark of joy so to speak. I mean, you’d say “seeing Person X being baptized gave me the kind of joy you have when welcoming a newborn into the world…” 🙂

It’s an exuberant joy. Shared first with my family, then with close friends who knew my sister was expecting, then with my spiritual family (the church), until it overflows in a blog post open for the world to read. It’s a joy that seeks expression.

And you know what’s crazy, I actually expect others to be as happy about the news as I am. It’s obvious that the more distant we are from each other, the less likely that would be the case, and yet that knowledge does not abate my hope that you would share my joy. In a sense, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not you can relate – I feel like my joy is so contagious it will force you to be happy too!

So, welcome to the world baby No-Name Nhari! I’m excited to meet you, get to know you, love you!

Curiosity

There may be somebody out there who can resonate with this struggle of mine with curiosity. Yes, yes, it is said that curiosity killed the cat…But that cat had at least nine lives, right…so…it’s ok 😛

It’s so frustrating when people start telling you something then leave you hanging! I mean, how can you sleep at night, thinking about all the permutations that story could have taken to its conclusion?!? No matter how anti-climactic, you’ve just gotta know the ending!

In the ongoing story that is each of our lives, we pray fervently that God’s will be made known to us. This is good. Of course. The thing is, though, too often, we want to know, just for curiosity’s sake – just so we know how God would end the story if we let Him.

But that privilege is not always ours. In fact, it seldom is. We know for sure that Truth triumphs in the end, but how exactly the drama plays out in our individual lives is one huge question mark.

Maybe the problem isn’t curiosity, though. Maybe our focus is off. Maybe our curiosity is misdirected…

The most important question in life is “Who?”: Not “what?”: Not “how?” Who do you want to be when you grow up? Who will your friends be after you have influenced them? And the chief Who in our pursuit is God.

Getting to know God is the whole point. And seeking insight into the whats and whens of life is meant to bring us to a clearer understanding of the “Who is God?” question. You see, how He directs my life tells me something about Him. How He answers my prayers, tells me about Him. What He says in His Word, obviously tells of Him.

Where will I live as an adult? What will my occupation be 10yrs down the road? Which area will I pursue for further study? How will I pay for grad school? When can I graduate from apartment renting and buy a house? etc etc etc. As happy as I am right now and thankful to God for where He’s brought me from, I’m just curious about what’s next…

But you know the oft-repeated lyrics: I know not what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future…

The unquenchable curiosity to know Him is where it’s at!