Grasping my finger as I hold a bottle to baby Daniella's mouth, she intenly studies my face. I don't know her story or why she's in the orphanage; neither does she. All Daniella knows is that she woke up hungry and I was there to feed her. As I sit in the nursery feeding Daniella and the eleven other infants in the room, I'm struck with the reality of how helpless these little ones truly are.
Only the Beginning
As some of you know, my husband and I feel that one of our callings as a couple is to have a home-based ministry for orphans. Part of this first year in Kenya has been dedicated to doing some hands on research by volunteering at various types of orphanages and connecting with their leaders. Last week I began volunteering at Happy Life Orphanage. It's about a block away from the place where we currently reside and I generally spend three hours a time there in the mornings. Thus far I've primarily served in infant room A, which is where the babies six months and under are kept. One of those babies has a history of sorts with us...
Four months ago Ray was coming back to Nairobi from a video shoot in Bungoma when just down the road from his home he came upon a crowd of people. Having had some documentary experience, he found this situation to be ripe for documenting, so he pulled out his camera and began to record interviews from some of the bystanders. It turns out that a couple in a nearby flat had dumped a bloody newborn in the trash. As the garbage was being collected, a man found the baby. Someone contacted Happy Life, as they specialize in taking in abandoned babies, and they rescued the child and took him to the hospital.
It grieves me to say this, but this isn't uncommon. If babies aren't able to be aborted, this is the next best method. Couples resort to these measures because they can't afford the child, but the young women abandon their children because they are only in Nairobi for studies and they can't handle the judgment of dealing with their family's disappointment when they return to their respective villages.
Knowing the Season
Fast forward four months to the moment that I'm holding the very child Ray encountered that dark day. He's now healthy, content, and well taken care of. Praise God for such organizations as Happy Life. As I described the state of abandoned babies to a friend of mine last week, she asked if I take the weight of their plight home with me or if I find myself getting depressed about the situation. Oddly enough, though my heart cries for these children (I had to hold back my tears the first day I held those sweet babies), I know that in this season I can't do much more than what I'm doing. One day I will be better equipped to do more about this, but for now if the only testimony the babies can give of my presence there is, "I was hungry and you fed me," then I'm doing the best I can.
Throughout high school and college I heavily supported the concept of knowing who you are as a woman before getting into a relationship with a man. For a long time I was fairly certain that I knew who I was, no doubt about it... then I got married.
In the short time that I've been able to don the title married lady, I've already been faced with the nagging question I thought I had finally rid myself of... "Who am I?" There are three major areas/roles that keep dragging this question up for air against my vehement wishes to let it sink to the bottom of the sea of forgetfulness with all the other junk I'd rather not deal with.
First, the role of being a wife. Pre-nuptial Sam (a.k.a. "Da Broje") was spontaneous, disorganized, and independent. Naturally, as a right-brain dominant chick, I embraced creativity and made most decisions on impulse. In fact, the more friends grew to know me, the more often the term weird would be connected to my name; I was actually proud of that fact. I kind of felt like I had achieved a certain level of transparency with people when they would identify me as such. Post-nuptial Sam is now learning to be more reliable, submissive, and clean. All those left-brain skills that I once dismissed as unnecessary are now on standby every day as they come into play with most discussions we have as a couple. With the care of my husband and home taking top priority in my life, I can no longer act as carefree and random as I once did. Now don't get me wrong, I still get the incredulous side eye from Ray with the remark that I'm weird, but most of "Broje" in me is slowly becoming more domesticated. I suppose this will happen even more once I become a mother.
Second is the role of culture. Most people don't realize it until they're affronted with a culture contrary to theirs, but we all have a cultural identity. Some of the things that seem "normal" to you are only so because they are just that... cultural norms that you've been taught from childhood. Being married to a man from a completely different culture has really opened my eyes to how American I truly am. The differences between our cultures reach much deeper than which side of the road to drive on. They even reach deeper than appropriate types of dress and speech. Culture influences the way we believe our family should be structured, the way we read and understand the Bible, and much more. There are certain expectations I face as a wife, but adding culture to those expectations makes it that much more difficult for me to know exactly what it is I'm supposed to be doing with myself to make my husband happy. I have to learn his culture to get a better idea of what he expects of me.
The third role I'm grappling with, that many of you have in common with me, is called being a Christian. There was a time before I got married when I thought I was Miss Holier-Than-Thou-So-Don't-Even-Try-To-Step-To-My-Level-Cuz-Perfection-Is-My-Burden-To-Bear. I had even gotten so bold as to tell God months before Ray and I officially got together that I believed I had reached the end of what I could learn as a single person, so marriage would be a nice challenge. And so God proceeded to let all the air out of my big head... Since the day I said "I do", so much foul stuff has surfaced in my heart, I barely recognize who I am anymore. Sometimes Ray looks completely bewildered when I spit at him some of the most hateful things I've ever said; I look at myself the same way. I often wonder, What happened to those days in college when I would worship, pray, and feast on the Word for hours? Where did that girl go? When did I become so mean? As far as everyone else is concerned, I'm still sweet and of admirable character, but Ray... oh, Ray... he has seen the pit of hell and lived to tell the story. It's the weirdest thing though. This pressure cooker called marriage is really showing who has the stronger relationship with God. I've been saved longer than Ray, read the entire Bible multiple times through, can easily recall Scripture and apply it to any question I'm asked, and I've served in ministry most of my life, yet he is the one who demonstrates the actual fruit of the Spirit. It turns out I'm not as holy as I thought I was when I was single... I'm actually quite wretched and depraved. This category has been the toughest for me deal with because it influences both of the preceding categories. If I don't learn how to live by the Spirit, I'll do nothing but gratify the desires of my flesh when it comes to letting go of my independence and making compromise in cultural conflict.
Christ In Me the Hope Of Glory
So it seems like the revival of the question "Who am I" is something I'm going to have to deal with until the day I can answer dust. In the meantime, I think it's time for me relearn what it means to be crucified with Christ. Above all else, I pray that all that I am is transformed into His likeness; that His traits, His identity becomes one in the same with mine. Of course there are unique bits of me that will not change because He created me that way, but if Christ is living in me, then He becomes the default answer to my question. I pray this becomes the truth I live from this day forward.
"You don't have to correct me so much, just let me learn on my own."
Famous last words
As I'm recovering from a three day long bout with a parasitical infection called amoebiasis, I'm wishing I could take those words back. Adjusting to life here in Kenya has been difficult for me, not because the way of life is hard, but because my head is hard. I want to learn so much about my husband's culture, but I don't like being told what to do. Ray is the least overbearing person I know and he can correct me in the most gentle way, but I'll still cop an attitude when he tells me I'm doing something contrary to the customs of his culture. As many of you can already tell, that's nothing but pride. Big, fat, stinking pride.
Temper tantrums and pity parties
My pride rose up in a big way this past Sunday as we were preparing for church, of all things. Just before we left the house, I was informed that the dress I was wearing was too short. Don't ask me why, but that was my breaking point. I quietly closed Ray and myself in the room, threw my phone, spat a swear word or two, and flung my dress back into the suitcase. Ray calmly told me that I wouldn't be going anywhere with an attitude like that, and I happily agreed. He left for church, and I stayed at the house throwing a pity party for one. Thankfully there's this entity called the Holy Spirit that lives in me, so I couldn't stay that way for long. I spent some time praying, as Ray had requested before he left, and then I listened to a sermon I had qued a few days prior. Ironically enough, it was about relationships, forgiveness, and the extending of grace.
Bad decisions prevail
After the message ended, Ray sent me a text letting me know that he would be home a bit later. I had no airtime on my phone so I couldn't text him back to tell him that I wanted to leave, so I just packed my bookbag and headed out. I knew he'd be upset if he discovered I was gone and didn't tell him where I was going, but I didn't mind. Prior to that day I'd never gone out alone, but I just wanted to be a big girl and do something all by myself, so I walked to town and stopped at a hotel that we had visited a few times in the past. I thought I had ordered something safe to eat, but the waitress didn't quite understand me and brought some boiled carrots and peas, which I didn't ask for. If Ray had been there, he wouldn't have let me eat that, but I didn't know any better, so I happily chowed down. For all the trouble it caused, I wish it would've tasted better.
Rumblings down under
That evening, after I had repented and Ray and I reconciled, I began to feel a little... off. The next day I was stuck to the bed, unless I was running to the bathroom, which happened every ten minutes or so. In the up country people go to the hospital immediately once they exhibit symptoms like this because they never know if it's malaria or typhoid or some other serious disease. The family urged me to go to the hospital, but I still wanted to express my independence, so I told them I'd be all right. The next morning things were not all right, so to the hospital we went. It turns out that I had ingested some amoeba as I was proudly asserting my independence from my husband. I paid dearly for it too. I've never felt worse in my life.
Whenever I would complain about being corrected, Ray would tell me that he only did it because he loved me and was trying to make life easier for me. I heard him, but I didn't hear him until now. We lost over 5,000 ksh in medical expenses and I lost a lot of *ahem* fluids, and it was all because of my bad decision. Even so, Ray acted as though none of that mattered and he cared for me in such a loving and gentle way. He refused to leave the house while I was sick and spent every day in the bed with me consoling me, feeding me, and helping me go to the bathroom. He loved me as Christ loves His Church; he taught me what real love looks like, and it spoke volumes to me and really helped to heal my heart. So often I treat God the same way and He responds in the same manner as my husband. Sometimes I wish I didn't feel the need to test them so much. I wish I could just trust them when they tell me "No". Believe you me, this was a hard lesson, but I think it's finally starting to get through my head.
After many years of wishing, hoping, thinking, praying, planning, and dreaming, I am finally married and living in Africa.
So many issues we face here are completely out of our control, and for those of you that know me, that is not something I prefer... actually, I'd say that's probably true for most American women; yet life goes on and we have to decide if we're going to jump into the raging waters and trust that the One who once calmed the sea will help us navigate the current or if we're going to wait until the waters still before we jump in.