Last Saturday marked six months of marriage for Ray and I. After going to an arcade and spending two hours playing video games, we spent some time reflecting on our challenges and triumphs thus far and decided to share a few of them with you in a co-blog.
Challenge # 1: Pride
Ray: Having been raised in a culture where women have had no voice for many years has had a great impact on my understanding of marriage. Though I have been raised to believe that a man is the head of the house, especially in relation to providing food and shelter, there are other beliefs, like who makes decisions for the family, that we have had to work through. Here, men go for bank loans to buy expensive cars without consulting their wives. When everything backfires, the whole family shares in the sorrow. I have also seen men spend their family's savings on new overnight business ventures, only for the children to become guests at the neighbors' around meal time. Just recently our parliament even passed a bill into law that allows a man to marry a second wife without even consulting their first wife. You can call it whatever you like, but I call it PRIDE.
I knew marrying a person from the other side of the ocean, where stern legislation has been passed in favor of women was going to be a challenge. I knew it would be hard for me especially for the fact that we were going to start our lives in Kenya where shared decision making would not be normal. A woman trying to correct her husband in public or trying to share an opinion amidst African men is unheard of. But I still made that decision because I knew it was not about what people say, but about what my purpose as a husband is: to love my wife as Christ loved the church. When God gave Eve to Adam as a helper, it was not just to help Adam in the "gardenhold" chores, but to partner with him in other areas, especially decision making. All I can say is I haven't gotten this far with my wife on my own. It has taken Jesus, and I'm still looking to Him to see what He has in store.
Sam: Just as Ray mentioned, because I come from a culture where women are given equal rights to men (for the most part), I have really struggled with submission not just to my husband, but to other men. There was a day we were speaking with an older gentleman and I started goofing around with Ray, poking and teasing him. He kind of stiffened and gave me that "now is not the time" look. Later in the house he informed me that culturally it's disrespectful for me to speak in the presence of an elder unless spoken to. Apparently the expectation was for me to sit quietly and wait until I was dismissed. It is very easy for me to become offended at situations like that, but there's not much I can do to combat it, especially with the older generation. They're not too keen on a young American girl who wants to shake things up. I've just had to learn to humble myself... like really humble myself, and do as the culture warrants. Ray is no where near being as closed off as most men are here, but as he said, he still grapples with a lot of ideas he's learned about women and he's working on reconciling them to the fiery American woman he married. It's definitely a work in progress.
Triumph # 1: A Solid Commitment to Bible Study
Sam: I must confess that I was one of those single girls in college with the list. You know what I'm talking about? That illustrious list of attributes you want your husband to have. It's not bad to have desires, but it's probably not wise to compose that list when you have nothing but superficial ideas swimming in your head and then you make two copies, one sealed copy for yourself and another for a friend who can hold you accountable so you don't get into a relationship with anyone who is missing anything on your list. Yeah, that was me. Funny enough, Ray came into my life and broke every single expectation I thought I had for a husband. In a good way, of course. I wanted to marry a musician so we could go on tour and give birth to our very own Von Trapp family, but he wasn't that. At that time I was only attracted to white men; Ray is African... you can't get much further away than that. I also wanted a strong spiritual leader. It appears I didn't really have an appropriate grid for what that looks like within marriage before I met Ray. I expected to marry someone who had been leading Bible studies since he was a toddler or at least who could debate any biblical scholar to the point of concession. Ray wasn't that, but he had something I had missed on my list. He had a teachable spirit and a desire to grow, even if it meant that I would be the one teaching. From the first day of our marriage to today, he has initiated a Bible study with me every weekday. We read a chapter a day and discuss, sharing what we've discovered, asking questions, and so on. It has been amazing to watch my husband grow in the Word and to see how much this has helped our marriage. Even if we're tired or fighting or whatever, we know that our Bible study time isn't optional. Not because we're legalistic about it, but because we know that the one day we skip will be the beginning of a series of excuses for why we should continue to skip it. Sticking to this commitment has really helped us grow together the past six months.
Ray: When I was praying and asking God for a wife, "God-fearing, singing ability, beauty, and spiritual maturity" were some of the things that were on top of my prayer list. I thank God because He answered my prayers and not only did I get what I wanted, but they came in double portion. When I said I wanted a singer, I was thinking more on a Kenyan level. God gave me an international singer. If you haven't heard her sing, you're missing out on a lot. You can click her picture on the sidebar to check out her music. As far as spiritual matters are concerned, I can proudly say that I am not the spiritual leader yet. I know I can choose to pretend and act as if I know the Word, but what good will it do me? My wife has challenged me to want to know God more. At first I was like, "Let me read the Bible more so that I can be the head," but when I got into it, I realized it was more than that. I know that since I've been raised with a strong Christian background one would think that things like spiritual maturity come by default, but that's not the case. That's why we made a commitment to read the Word of God on weekdays, and I can proudly say we have honored that. I believe that this has kept us going even on stormy days.
Speaking of stormy days, those are the times I believe I gain even more from the Bible, because sometimes my baby is so upset with me that she doesn't feel like talking, so I end up breaking down the Word all by myself. Sometimes it's a blessing in disguise.
Challenge #2: Time Commitments
Sam: I have alluded to this issue previously, but the fact that it's surfacing again here should indicate that it's something we're still dealing with, though I can say it has gotten a lot better than it used to be, and I have no doubt that when we review our marriage in another six months, it won't be as big of an issue.
The first week we lived here, this surely wasn't the case. I couldn't see any issue as big or as damaging as the issue of time management. One day Ray left in the morning to run an errand and said he'd be back in two hours. Because of Nairobi traffic and people he bumped into that needed his attention (he had been in the States away from work for two months and he had the African wedding to help plan), he didn't come home for twelve hours. I literally had a nervous breakdown. At that time I hadn't gotten a cell phone yet, so I had no idea where he was or what was happening. When he came home, we both ended up crying, and we resolved to do the best we could to keep time from getting away from us like that ever again. Even with all of the resolve we muster to combat this issue, there are just so many variables that are out of our control. I'll let Ray explain some of the challenges he faces when he promises me he'll be home at a particular time...
Ray: I try so hard to keep my word, but in the world we live, this is far from possible. So many factors influence time. Taking a matatu home from work takes me like an hour when there is no heavy traffic. This can change if it rains heavily, if the matatu guys are on strike due to some new regulation introduced by the government, if our 'dear' president is either going to the airport or leaving the airport, and so on. I believe my wife has shared with you guys about TIA. (If you haven't read that, you will have to check it out somewhere down this page.) Being in a third world country, one has to work extra hard to make money. I know God provides, but does that mean we have to sit there and wait without putting our hands to work? I doubt. For that reason I have to commit to be in the office more than my wife would like. Sometimes a client will promise to come to my work place at two in the afternoon, but because TIA, he will show up at four. In Kenya when someone promises you a job, missing meeting them means you miss out on the job. In such cases, which don't happen on the regular, I can decide to follow my wife's request and go home without meeting the client, only for her to ask me what we are having for dinner and since I have no money I suggest we just pray and sleep, but trust me, that night I might be forced to sleep on the couch. (Just kidding. That has never happened.)
Sam: Dealing with these factors, sometimes all at once, has not been a leisurely stroll through the grasslands. Ray had grown accustomed to a life with various interruptions, but he wasn't used to facing these interruptions and coming home to a wife who has a bad habit of wielding a skillet whenever he's even slightly late. I was used to delays of no more than fifteen minutes, only permissible if accompanied by profuse apologies. We've both had to change our actions and expectations. Ray does his best to leave the office by three so he can beat the rush hour traffic, and I try to give him a warm reception and pleasant attitude, even if he is a few minutes (or hours) late. Neither of us has perfected these goals, but we're working on it!
Triumph #2: Communication & Honesty
Sam: Ray and I talk about everything, and I mean every-thang. Whether the topic of conversation is something trivial or intense, we share freely. At times there can be a backlash.. I don't like to hear that my husband had to "bounce" his eyes when a particular girl walked by, and my feelings can get hurt, but I know that when you face temptation and don't verbalize it, that gives it power. You can end up undergoing a serious struggle within yourself, and your spouse has no idea that you've been enduring heavy spiritual fire. When Ray tells me his struggles and I tell him mine, we can help each other guard ourselves from falling prey to that particular temptation. In matters of personal expectations that were dashed or offenses we received from one another, our catchphrases have become "You need to verbalize" or "What did you hear me say?" (The second one we learned from our friends Paris and Akeia.. this one has helped us clarify the difference between what was meant and what was felt.) It is very rare for us to let the sun go down without communicating what's bugging us. If we do allow that to happen, it's because of stupid pride (a.k.a. Wasike enemy #1), and most often... okay, all often, it's my pride. Regardless, the following day we end up straightening things out.
Ray: I thank God because my wife has really improved on this. By now I believe you all know she is an introvert, so when we first started this journey it was so hard for me to read her because she would always go quiet to "process". There was a time in the States we went out for breakfast with some friends, and out of nowhere she developed this attitude (at least that's what I thought it was). Of course this made me go into deep thoughts, trying to analyze my actions from the moment we walked into the restaurant, but I just couldn't figure it out. Later on I asked her about it and she said that something I said was kinda demeaning to women. I didn't mean it the way she took it, but the damage was already done.
Sam: That would be one of those moments when Ray would say, "You need to verbalize" or "What did you hear me say?" Short questions, but very powerful.
Six months seems like such a small milestone to celebrate when comparing it to the many years that we'll be together, but evaluating our progress and taking time at such points in our life journey to make sacrificial altars before the Lord and worship Him for His perfecting work in us is a great reminder that the best is yet to come.