The In-between Period

Beginnings. These we understand to be the point at which something begins. They come to us in many different ways. Some are joyfully anticipated. Like the birth of a child. When he finally pops the question. The long awaited promotion to the corner office. An alcoholic pours the final bottle of booze down the drain. The laying of the foundation stone for your dream home.

Other beginnings, however, can be daunting or sad. Like starting a new job or relocating to a new country. The death of a loved one and learning to live without them. The loss of a job or the end of a relationship. A deadly virus declared a global pandemic. Such beginnings may seem like the end rather than a beginning. But Seneca was inspired in declaring: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Life is a cycle of beginnings and endings and unless you’re dead (the permanent ending), the ending is usually the beginning of something else. Every story has an end, but in life every ending is a new beginning. The beginning of a fresh story. Indeed, every new day is an opportunity for a beautiful new beginning.

Enough with the beginnings and endings. What about the in-between period? The interim time? The time between “here” and “there”? The journey from “Story A” to “Story B”? The long dash in your life? Oftentimes, we do not realize we are in the in-between period, but the truth is that the high or low of a beginning does not last forever. You soon realize the new baby is a lot of work. The excitement of marriage settles down and you discover marriage is not a bed of roses. You move into that new house and you have to contend with additional maintenance and utility costs. The intense feelings of despair characteristic of grief over the death of a loved one soon diminish to more positive memories of the deceased person. You adapt to the “new normal” of living with the Coronavirus. We are always in the in-between period. In-betweenness is a necessary human condition – the quintessential human condition to living. It is where everyday life happens.

Today is Good Friday. I thought about how Jesus’ followers must have felt when he was crucified and the world fell dark and silent. Did they consider it a beginning or the end? Imagine them going back to their homes with their spirits crushed to the core. They had given up their livelihoods to follow this guy for three years and now he was dead. Where were they to start again? For three years, Jesus had taught and guided them. He had even miraculously provided for their daily needs. Now what? Those three days between the crucifixion and resurrection must have felt like the end for them. Not forgetting they risked being hunted down and killed by the same people that killed Jesus. Without the full knowledge we now have that Good Friday would give way to Easter, the followers of Jesus must have been in a state of despair during that in-between period.

Then there is Joseph. The teenager with a coat of many colors. Favored by his father Jacob over his eleven brothers, he dreamt that one day his brothers would bow down to him. And for that, they conspired to get rid of him. They sold him off to some merchants for less than what a common slave was worth. That’s how bad they despised him! You know the story. After many years, thirteen to be precise, his dreams came true and the brothers bowed down to him when he was promoted to be the second most powerful man in Egypt. Yet the in-between period was not a walk in the park. He had to contend with tramped up charges by a crazy Potiphar’s wife. He had to do jail time. He had to deal with people forgetting to return a favor. All this while he was living in a foreign land, away from his family and way of life. Without knowing how and when his dreams would be fulfilled, the in-between period must have been difficult for Joseph.

It doesn’t help that the in-between period is often undefined. The followers of Jesus waited three days for a new dawn. Joseph waited thirteen years. But this was not known to them. The waiting was hard, as it is for us all. We do not enjoy waiting. We do not enjoy the in-between period. Even when the beginning is a good one, we soon tire of it and get anxious for the next high. It is human nature. The impatience at traffic lights or check out queues or waiting at a doctor’s clinic is just a glimpse of who we really are.

So, what to do during the in-between period?

It may sound stupid, but waiting is all you can do. What matters is how you wait. How you spend the in-between time. Your attitude during the in-between period. We can learn a lot from Joseph.

Do what you can with what you have, wherever you are.

Joseph was not in Egypt by choice. He had no idea what would become of him. But whatever he did, he did it with excellence. He performed his duties in Potiphar’s house so well, the guy put him in charge of everything. Well, except the wife! When in prison, he continued to excel and the warden put him in charge of all the other prisoners. It is amazing that he even excelled in the interpretation of dreams. Picture this. A foreigner in prison has the guts to tell a high-ranking prisoner, Pharaoh’s own chief baker, that he shouldn’t expect to leave the prison alive! He said it as it was even though he didn’t know his own fate. Throughout the thirteen years, Joseph did what he could to the best of his ability.

Many theologians agree that Joseph is a type of Christ. Jesus endured much suffering but he was faithful till the end. And as Jesus would declare at the cross, “Fatherforgive them; for they know not what they do“, Joseph forgave his brothers, declaring, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Forgiveness is the flipside of gratitude. It involves choosing to release things like offenses, hurt feelings, judgments, and condemning thoughts. Gratitude, on the other hand, involves choosing to focus on the positive and good things in life and giving thanks for them. Forgiveness is about letting go of the things that weigh us down. Gratitude is about giving thanks for the things that lift us up.

During the in-between, a grateful heart makes the waiting bearable. Even worthwhile. Psychologists tell us the person who feels gratitude is thankful for what they have, and does not constantly seek more. That’s contentment with the here and now. And even in the worst circumstances, there is always something to be grateful for:

“The world has enough beautiful mountains and meadows, spectacular skies and serene lakes. It has enough lush forests, flowered fields, and sandy beaches. It has plenty of stars and the promise of a new sunrise and sunset every day. What the world needs more of is people to appreciate and enjoy it.” – Michael Josephson

Another thing to do during the in-between is to let go of Story A in order for Story B to emerge. Many of us are tied up in the past. We specialize in the “if onlys”. Imagine if Joseph had remained stuck in his father’s household where he had everything he needed. Where he was his father’s favorite, remaining at home when his brothers went away to graze the flocks. His story would definitely have been different. The in-between story we now read wouldn’t have taken three chapters to tell. We must break away from the things that keep us stuck in the old story. This calls for courage to seek what we need to get through whatever our in-between entails. It will often mean saying “No, this is not what I need right now”.

Joseph’s story is our story. His hope that kept him going during the in-between period is also our hope. We individually wait in whatever narrative that is unfolding in our lives but we mustn’t miss the forest for the trees – God’s purpose in the in-between. He prepared Joseph to save his brethren for thirteen years. He let His own beloved Son die a shameful death for the fulfilment of His redemption plan.

Your in-between period may be hard but if you trust God, He will work all things for your own good. Live in integrity and be confident that He will come through for you at His perfect timing.

After all, Good Friday gives way to Easter.


Love Vessels

When I wrote this post, I had no idea a huge curveball was hurtling towards me. This was on Saturday 13th March. Come Monday, I took my first-ever Covid-19 test after an exposure in the workplace. Since going back to the office in January (after many months of remote working), I have been extremely careful, following all MOH guidelines and I was sure the test would be negative, and this was just a formal exercise to tick the box. Shock on me!

The following day, I received an email that changed a lot of things. POSITIVE, the report screamed at me! I read it several times to be sure I was not misinterpreting negative for positive. It didn’t help that the laboratory sent ten other emails with the same report, which of course I had to open to read just in case they had realised their mistake and were resending the “correct” results (Lancet Laboratories, I have a bone to pick with you)!

My medical history places me at the center of those most vulnerable to Covid-19, comorbidities, they are called. You can therefore imagine my worry, despite the fact that I had no symptoms whatsoever. But the objective I had set for myself in that post – to write on this blog, everyday, for the next two weeks – provided just the right opportunity for an escape. I had time to reflect on many things, which gave me content for the daily blog posts. I thank God for His grace and mercy that have followed me through those days; remaining asymptomatic throughout! Twelve days later, here I am writing the tenth of the ten posts I committed to. I am glad, I did not let the Covid-19 positive result curveball knock me out, and by God’s help I was able to optimise on the opportunity it presented.

I empathise with many people who have not been as lucky and have had to endure serious illness, even death, from Covid-19 infections. My prayer is that God heals our land from the coronavirus. May we find physical, psychological and spiritual healing that we so desperately need. Most importantly, may you and I be conduits for delivering this healing. The calls and messages I received from family and friends while in isolation kept me going. To know that someone cares and are concerned for my wellbeing was a soothing balm to the soul. I intend to pay it forward. The best we can do however, is to follow the MOH guidelines. Many of us are unknowingly moving around with the virus. You could be asymptomatic but if you do not mask up, you risk infecting someone who may not be as lucky as you are. Show some love for your neighbor and mask up. Properly, I might add.

Following today’s lockdown announcement in five counties, life is about to get harder for many people. If you are in a position to help someone, please do. Businesses that had not fully revived will be further affected. Incomes for many households will continue to dwindle. If coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that life is fleeting.

Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

As long as you have breath in your body, do not take this beautiful gift called life for granted. We spend so much time feeling sorry for ourselves, being selfish, crying over little things, that sometimes we forget what we have isn’t permanent. We forget what we have been blessed with and how quickly it can be taken away. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. What good is holding onto material things? What good is putting off what can be done today for tomorrow? What good is holding grudges? Nothing will last forever. Except the feelings we spread and the love we give. Our time on earth is limited – make every second count. Do not be afraid to become love in action. Be a vessel of love.

Let’s share some love!

Kirk Franklin’s My World Needs You has been on my mind today.

Every heart in the world, God, needs you to rescue
Storms have come and torn our hearts in two
We need you

It’s Time to Shift

“When you replace “why is this happening to me” with “what is this trying to teach me?” Everything shifts.”Anon

I came across this quote on the streets of LinkedIn. I couldn’t find who it is attributed to but whoever it is, sure had (or have) a good head on their shoulders.

We’ve all at some point had that inner voice saying, “why me?” or “what’s wrong with me?” This is particularly true when things aren’t going as per our expectations. A relationship isn’t getting along as you hoped. Out of so many colleagues, your job is declared redundant. You or a loved one gets a difficult diagnosis. Going through changes and new experiences can be daunting and frustrating. It is easy to play the victim and ask “why me?”

Rather than dwell on the situation and play victim, we are being reminded to focus on the opposite, more positive angle. The opportunities for growth and new experiences that lie ahead. It is true our lives are continually in flux, and it’s not always going to be a walk in the park. If it were, we would never learn. For we are a sum of all of our life’s experiences – good or bad. And the only way to learn is by boldly asking, “what can I learn from this?”.

This positive U-turn determines your REACTION. And we have all heard the famous saying, “Life is 10% of what happens and 90% of how you react to it.” It is true. Reacting with light instead of shade, with responsibility instead of blame and in the future not the past, means the battle is already won.

So, forget about “why is this happening to me” and shift your focus and energy to “what is this trying to teach me?”

Someone also sent me a message about replacing “I’m sorry” with “thank you”. For example, instead of saying, “sorry I’m late”, say “thank you for waiting for me”. Instead of saying, “sorry for taking up all your time”, say “thank you for spending time with me”. While “sorry” exposes your weakness, “thank you” acknowledges the other person and their contribution.

I am sure “sorry” has its place, but for now I need to unlearn one of the essential magic words. It’s time to shift. Positivity and gratitude over negativity!

Dear John

My friends and I have been studying the Gospel according to John for the past couple of months. We use the Bible app and the 10-part plan we were reading even had the movie, The Life of Jesus, as an accompaniment. It’s such a great way to connect every day, you should try it.

Anyway, today was the final day and the last verse of the biography of the Man Jesus by John, caught my attention. He wrote:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

Hello! You didn’t live in the era of the internet, John. The internet affords anyone and everyone a voice. Look at me. Tucked in my corner here trying to shout myself hoarse! I bet if Jesus lived today, a lot more would be said about him. There would be cameras following his every move. We wouldn’t miss a detail. I noticed how you skipped some parts and I had to confirm with Matthew and Mark whether my mind was playing tricks on me. Really John? How could you not write about the Judas kiss in chapter 18? Or the fact that after Simon Peter had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus touched the man’s ear and healed him?

Anyway, with today’s keyboard warriors, every move would be documented. I would watch a TV show, A Day in the Life of Jesus. Who was healed today and how. What he told those two-faced Pharisees. Where his brothers and sisters are and what they are doing. What the eye witnesses to the five-loaves-two-fish miracle have to say about it. I can imagine CNN or Al Jazeera reporting the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead – Bethany Man “Resurrects” After Four Days! Movie makers would fall over each other seeking rights to the story.

Wait a minute! That already happened! Dear John, I’ll have you know that since you gave us the outline to the story of Jesus, there’s no one in history who has been discussed more, had more songs and books written about or inspired more artwork. And you were right, if every person who has been touched by Jesus were to write their story, even the internet couldn’t hold the many volumes.

I loved studying John’s gospel. You can tell by the way he writes that he was in awe of his master. He couldn’t help himself but keep writing about Jesus. No wonder he had to wrap it up the way he did. Steve Farrar in his book, Finishing Strong, said it better:

To tell the truth, John never got over those forty-two months with Jesus. Even when he wrote his gospel, he had a tough time ending it. How do you end a book about someone who has no end? How do you put a period on an infinite story?
John finally saw that he had to wrap things up, and it’s a good thing; otherwise you and I would be packing our Bibles around in a wheelbarrow. I’m guessing he scratched out these last words with a deep sigh.

Dear John, I am with you on this one. It is impossible to get over such an awe-inspiring Savior and Lord!

Positive Vibes

The first thing I read today was an email that ended up being one of those curveballs I was telling you about here. You know those ones that knock you off balance? I didn’t think I could master to write a word but, lo and behold! I had help from the most unexpected quarters.

About three weeks ago I got a copy of The Screwtape Letters a Christian apologetic novel by C. S. Lewis. I can’t quite remember how I first came across one of the letters but I was shocked that someone would take the trouble to impersonate the devil and try and live out his daily life. Even in writing. What shocked me more however, was to learn about the author, a man I often quote. And who doesn’t love The Chronicles of Narnia? Lewis brought to the world what is considered to be a classic of children’s literature. To imagine the two books were written by the same person? That’s one active imagination!

Back to The Screwtape Letters. The letters are theology in reverse and Lewis starts off in the preface, by warning readers to remember that the devil is a liar. Otherwise one might confuse the Enemy for Our father below! Screwtape is a senior devil who is mentoring his nephew, an inexperienced devil named Wormwood, on how best to tempt a man, only referred to as “the Patient”, into sin and eventually, into hell. The book is a collection of 31 letters from Screwtape in which he advises, encourages, admonishes and even rebukes Wormwood as he follows the Patient around on earth.

You may want to read the book for yourself and this is not a review, but when I started reading it, I couldn’t go beyond the first few letters. For some reason, I was conflicted – have I heard enough from the One above that I now want to hear what the One below has to say? Yet the book remained open on my laptop. Today though, maybe because that early morning email left me feeling screwed up, I found myself turning to the book. I am not sure what I was looking for but I needed a distraction. And there, in letter no. 6, I found positivity all wrapped up in such irony, that it is easy to miss it.

In his characteristic address, Screwtape begins the letter with My Dear Wormwood,

I am delighted to hear that your patient’s age and profession make it possible, but by no means certain, that he will be called up for military service. We want him to be in the maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

Friends, have you ever had a wake-up call after the wake-up call? I knew right there and then that I was playing into the tricks of Wormwood or whichever devil is assigned to me. There is no chance that I will called up for military service, but the uncertainty of my situation had me brooding most of the day; wondering how it will all play out, what my next course of action will be; while forgetting it isn’t my cross to bear alone. Screwtape continued to preach:

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done”…It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses…

It was a eureka moment. Sometimes you think you know things deeply, only to realize you don’t know a damn thing. And you never can tell where your next lesson will come from. Even Screwtape can be the source of positivity. Unknowingly of course seeing he delights in our misery. There’s a lightness in my spirit and I will endeavor to complete reading The Screwtape Letters.

Eight Posts in One Month

“Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

No one ever wakes up determined to make a mess of the day. At least, I believe most of us rise up to make today better than yesterday.

The intention is however, often far from reality. And the cycle may continue for many days before you get a break. Meanwhile, you get up and work relentlessly at your craft as you wait for that break. Some people are lucky to enjoy and get a kick out of what they do. But every day? 365 days in a year? I don’t think so. After all, life specializes in throwing curveballs.

And curveballs is what I have been getting lately. So much so that even doing what I love has been a struggle. Writing.

I am currently attempting Level 4 of the Toastmasters Pathways program where the electives are more about building skills and less of increasing knowledge. I had the choice of Creating a Podcast, Doing a Q&A session, Manage Online Meetings, Build a Social Media Presence, or Write a Compelling Blog. I am yet to create a podcast but I am pretty sure I have dabbled with all the others. So I settled in making this blog more compelling and hopefully engage you, my reader more. You could also say it was a lazy option since this blog was already up and running. And I paid some dollars for the domain, which is due for renewal!

Anyway, one month after that well-intentioned decision, I am yet to write a single post. Blame it on curveballs. Sometimes they are just small daily inconveniences. Other times, they knock me off-balance and threaten to take me out of the game.

One thing I have learnt about curveballs is that I can either swerve them or hit them out of the park. A sage once said to trust the universe’s plan. To hold space for possibilities I cannot yet imagine. Curveballs are a reality of life and it is impossible to control them. The best I can do is learn how to control myself so the curveball does not knock me out.

Which brings me to the point of this post – here’s me trying to knock the source of this dejection out of the park. Writing does that for me. Putting one word after another. Committing to finish. Telling it as best as I can. And chasing the horizon while at it.

The objective of my Toastmasters project is simple – to post a minimum of eight blog posts in one month. I intend to post everyday from Monday to Friday for the next two weeks. The intention is to share a 1-2 minute read of something I have read that day and my interpretation of it. Not a review, but my gut reaction to it.  It could be a sentence or a paragraph from my current read, a newspaper article, an advert. Anything. And the fun bit is that I invite you to walk the journey with me and share something in return. The universe has so much to offer and every day is a learning experience.

“Find your tribe and encourage your child to find theirs”. That was from my children’s weekly school newsletter.  I could say a lot about what I thought about that one sentence but this project begins on Monday. But I am sure you get the plot. See you on Monday.

All The Time After That

I am thinking retirement…all the time after the eight to five. All the time after building the business empire. All the time after the children have flown off the nest. All that time…

Some things come to us at just the right moment. Maybe it is a sign I have ignored for a while. I still don’t know what to do with it but I’ll be watching it closely.

Meanwhile, read on about my thoughts about “All The Time After That”, as presented at a Toastmasters yesterday evening.

Happy Accidents

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.” – Bob Ross

I know what you are thinking and that was my initial thought too. What a load of baloney, yeah? I mean, if we tried to pass off our mistakes as happy little accidents, we may as well make accidents the norm, right? Happy little accidents? How do you put happy and accident in the same sentence? That’s an oxymoron, no? And a three-word-sentence at that? As in happy and accident take up two-thirds of the sentence? And what’s little anyway? Is it the lack of spilled blood that qualify an accident as little? Who measures happiness and how long should that feeling last after the accident? Unfortunately for me, Bob Ross is the late, so I couldn’t ask him these questions.

As with many thoughts that refuse to leave my mind until I do something about it, this one stayed on for a while. I tried to think of a mistake(s) I had made that turned out great. You see, I am very analytical, logical, systematic and anything else that can be defined as disliking surprises. I love structured, ordered, and functional environments. While I have made mistakes in my life, they are often most unwelcome and it would be idiotic to declare any as a “happy little accident”, or so I thought. Until I read somewhere that for many of us, our very existence could be considered happy little accidents.

Think about it. Your parent(s) may never have gone shopping for a baby. In fact, getting pregnant was probably the last by-product they expected when they got onto that conveyor belt. Maybe they were too young, just experimenting as they tried to find their footing in the adult world; or maybe they thought they had fulfilled their duty of filling the world with the children they already had; or you are a second-born like me (did you know that most second-borns are unplanned for?). Yet there was nothing they could do to prevent your conception. They may have thought of you as an accident, yet here you are taking a serving at this life.  Your life, dear reader, is a fortunate stroke of serendipity. A happy little accident!

In the light of this, I could picture some of my past mistakes that turned out not too shabbily. Of course, there are many that still make me cringe. Those that make me have a conversation with myself and wish to write a letter to my younger self. Yet, even such have provided great learning experiences . I am wiser because of my past mistakes, which also make me more empathetic towards anyone making the same mistake. Ross didn’t say it but I am sure he would agree with Harvey Mackay who said: One mistake will never kill you. The same mistake over and over again will.

I will not write about my happy little accidents. I will do better by telling you what a couple of friends told me when I asked about their past mistakes they thought fitted the description of happy little accidents. In this era of COVID-19, people have time and they were happy to indulge me. The names and some identifying details have obviously been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.

I knew Leah back in college but we never kept in touch after graduation. Life is however, full of surprises and I met Leah more than twenty years later when we both took our  daughters to the same high school. We marveled that we last met when we were just a little older than our girls. I knew she was a single mum but I didn’t expect her to tell me that the biggest mistake she ever made was marrying the father of her two daughters – her college sweetheart who she thought was the love of her life. They were both God-fearing, church youth leaders and it seemed only natural that they should tie the knot once they were done with school. They were married two years after graduating, and another three years later, they welcomed their first baby child, a beautiful girl who is now at the university. However, dear hubby who was a pastor-in-training at the very church they had met when in college had a roving eye for the university female students. Caught not once, but twice and reported to the church administration, he was forced to step down and of course things took a turn for the worse on the home-front too. He started drinking heavily and became abusive towards Leah. Leah, who was expecting the second born filed for divorce and celebrated her thirtieth birthday as a divorced, single mother of two.

I asked her what’s happy about this mega accident and she answered in a manner only a mother can. “My two beautiful daughters. They have given my life meaning all these years. I have struggled to raise them on my own but it was worth every tear and sweat and wouldn’t have it any other way!” I believe they are many women (and men) who are no longer together with their spouses, or who remain in unhappy marriages. However, much as they may regret the decision to marry or to be involved with their partners, they would never regret having their children who color their world with sunshine yellow.

Then there’s Liz, my dear friend who is a nurse, currently at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 (remember to say a prayer for her and all our health workers). Liz grew up in relative comfort on the slopes of Mt Kenya. She was a well-adjusted child who did well in school and dreamed of becoming a bank teller in the city, just like her favorite uncle. By the time she completed her A-levels in 1989, she knew better to aim for a college education where she intended to study accounting. The forced gap year before joining college was however, full of surprises for the young lady.

To paraphrase Michel de Montaigne, our minds, unless kept busy with some definite subject that will bridle and control them, tend to throw themselves in disorder hither and yon in the vague field of imagination…And there is no mad or idle fancy that they do not bring forth in the agitation. Liz got herself into a pretty pickle that brought forth a bouncing baby boy a month after she should have reported to college. Nursing her son however, made Liz find her life’s calling – taking care of others. She was lucky to have supportive parents who enrolled her at the nearby Tumutumu Hospital Training College for a Diploma in Nursing. That career took off very well and as in many movie scripts, our nurse met and married a handsome doctor she met in the line of duty. Liz, now a grandmother of two, loves her job and says she cannot imagine what she would have done with an accountancy degree (she doesn’t even like numbers!). Was getting pregnant when she did a mistake or a happy little accident? Looking at my friend’s contented life, I believe without a doubt that was a blessing in disguise.

Interestingly, the mistakes narrated by all the ladies that responded to me had to do with the birth of their children and/or their love lives or lack thereof. It is definitely fertile ground for research! The men in my circles are apparently afraid of being vulnerable and none offered any insights (need to find me some new friends!) I could tell a few of the stories on their behalf but I will give them another chance to redeem themselves. At the end of the day, it is all about self-acceptance and self-love.

I need to stop writing before this post loses focus completely. However, remember this: You can’t be afraid to make mistakes because there are no mistakes…only happy little accidents!