FINDING VICTORY DESPITE THE CHALLENGE: Lessons Learned Through the Foggy Eyes Beatrice Waithaka (New Vision Publishing Services, Cincinnati, Ohio 45224, 2016, softcover)
“Finding Victory Despite the Challenge” advances a premise based on overcoming hindrances and getting ready for the next while exploring the defies of living with a handicap in a community, society, and indeed a world that is unaccepting alluding the pain and struggles such individuals, their siblings, and parents go through. She emphases on enlightening, reinforcing and inspiring the reader to obstinately pursue victory despite the deterrents on one’s pathway. she acknowledges her strong fortitude to her relationship with God, notwithstanding the contemplative reality of being different, unable to do chores, as easily and dealing with the ever persistent rhetorical question “why.”
The book is not an imaginary narrative but a real journey this writer experienced as she navigated through the rough terrain of being “legally blind” in a developing country, that lacked, at least then, basic accommodations for the handicapped, yet, like any other “normal” child, expected to pursue her education and dreams. The writer recounts her experience with visual disability in a way that only she can as she narrates her challenges and the looming journey she undertook with her family, friends, and in some cases alone. She recounts endless visits made to different hospitals and the many inconclusive tests she underwent in pursuit of an evasive medical cure, and the subsequent prognosis that she had Stargardts, a common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration disease, which led to her being labeled legally blind and sending shockwaves to her family.
The significance of Beatrice’s offering is not to solicit pity or sympathy rather an unveiling, as it were, of her struggles with what people with normal eyesight consider as “normal” chores, for example, depending on rides; walking without tripping over people in a party, or bumping into things on your path; and so on, yet she pulls off these struggles asserting, “it’s in being stretched that one creates room for a blessing.” Yet, terrorized by the fear of shame, as reality of visual impairment crystalizes, she agrees that “the dark places” wrought her to who she is today, those dark places of disabilities; those dark places of incidents and accidents; those dark places without access to resources and recreation; those dark places of loneliness, all combined fashioned her, crafting her, to an individual who does not know what giving up looks like. She embraces a vision of herself disavowing the present circumstances as a predictable for her future, refusing to let go a dream of a woman making a difference in the world deeply engraved in her mind.
To what others consider proverbial, to her it was axiomatic; of being accosted with oratorical questions; of being relegated from school teams; of being disregarded and considered as almost invisible, yet every day she woke up with a purpose. In the end, despite the challenges, the focus she suggests needs to shift from trepidations, anxieties, angsts, or apprehensions, to what we individually can do through the power of God within us to overcome our life’s hindrances. After all, we are all impaired, and the different spiritual doctors we have visited have failed to provide us with a working solution. We need “The Great Physician, who knows and understands our condition.”
Reviewed by Julius Mwangi, MSc AIM; MDiv.
Review by Julius Mwangi
The book, Through the Belly of the Whale, by Wanja wa Ndungu, is constructed on the author’s eventful and unfortunate youthful adventures that subsequently led her to alcohol dependence and other related challenges. She writes from the lens of one who has endured intense misery, hopelessness, ineptness, and depression; someone who self-imprisons to flee the monsters of guilt and hate but ultimately lacks the capacity or will power to set self-free. It’s when she reaches rock bottom – that place where the prodigal son had been; that place where Jonah had been; that place where Paul had been, that she realizes, only she could determine whether to or not to take the journey back to freedom, safety, and sobriety. She chose to.
The book is seemingly written to parents, presumably of persons suffering from addiction of any sort, and those bound by any kind of addiction, alcohol, drugs, prostitution, pornography, and so on, and offers “the power … in the blood of Jesus, which is able to set one free.” It is a fast paced account that cuts through daring adventures and experiences only the author could have navigated. Her story requires courage to tell and she does this with grace and humility without shying to reveal personal details, thus corroborating the real challenges of alcoholic addictions. In telling the story, she speaks for those whose voices have faded, perhaps permanently; those robbed of normalcy by addiction; and those who addiction has placed labels on.
The narrator does not, in the least, celebrate her wrongs nor does she justify her wrong choices. She does not come out as a self-seeking make believe writer focusing on the emotions of the reader, rather she validates her personal experiences through the pages as she narrates her gruesome journey. She in narrating her experiences faces them again, perhaps for the last time. Like a knight with a shining armor, she seemingly slays and mutilates every one of them as she candidly ushers the reader through the narrow paths of her intricate struggles, the unfortunate road accident that led to misdiagnosis, self-pity, rebellion, and eventually alcoholism. It’s a road frequently trodden, but few are bold enough to face the cynicism, sarcasm, acerbity, or causticity in retelling their story.
The book has six unconventional chapters, unconventional because every chapter speaks passionately of her challenges. She cleverly navigates through the different stages of her life while intensifying alcohol related challenges and intertwining the deficiencies with biblical texts. Her mishaps begins with one simple act of rebellion against her parents, which torpedoes her to behavior deficits destructive beyond her wildest imaginations. Ndungu confesses, “I knew I was an alcoholic when I couldn’t function without alcohol in my system. It was the power that drove me; the force that controlled my every movement Alcohol was the first thing in my mind and the last thing before I slept” (2015,50). She recounts her rape ordeal that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy and subsequent abortion “made possible, in the slums of Nairobi, through the help of a high school friend.” With this abortion, she claims, “a part of me died as well” and accelerated her drinking and risky living/behavior, as bitterness and resentment towards men, and depression, kicked in full throttle. Yet she wanted out, but couldn’t. At the end of chapter three she finally admits, “if there was any time in my life I wanted out…this was that time”(2015,85). In her apprehension she admits, “nothing but the mighty hand of God was holding my soul in place”(2015,86).
Being a nursing professional she speaks of her ailing medical conditions, which sadly was not enough reason to marshal her back to sobriety. Instead as she becomes more aware of her condition, she withdraws from people, oversleeps, and has excuses for just about anything; calls off-work so many times that she was let go, which ultimately leads to an eviction notice from her apartment. Accepting it was time to change, she unveils her struggle of taking the first step to recovery as the predominant and hardest step to take. In the meantime, every delay to recovery plummets her deeper into depression, denial, driving violations and tickets, suicidal ideation, and risky living. In the end, her friend Angel rescues her but issues ultimatums on lapses that the narrator systematically broke. Unable to tolerate this, Angel kicks her out of her home, and this becomes the beginning of the narrator’s reality check as she seeks help from her cousin who takes her to a detox center, and the beginning of her recovery.
While Through the Belly of the Whale is a book full of drama with pages filled with shocking revelations, insights, and motivation, it is nevertheless a sad story of the narrator’s struggles with wrong decisions, wasted opportunities, and indeed the follies of alcoholism and other addictions. Yet in displaying her weakness, her faults, and failures, she ultimately stands out from the rest as she identifies and remains faithful to those struggling with addiction of whatever sort and assuring them of a way out. The illustrations and testimonies she offers are relevant, realistic, and relatable specifically to those in or affected by addiction. In so doing, she successfully promotes an awareness on alcohol addiction and its destructive attributes.
Through the Belly of the Whale, was first published in 2015 by New Vision Publishing Services, Cincinnati. It is available through Amazon.com and the author’s website www.wanjandungu.org.
Review by Julius Mwangi
The book Rooted and Built up in Christ: A Discipleship Resource for Believers in Christ, by Lucy King’ori, answers different questions among them, how a new believer can be integrated into the Christian life; how a new believer can grow in faith and live a victorious life; and how a new believer can apply God’s word to release divine provisions consistent with God’s will and purpose (2015, ix). It is written for the born again Christian, young and old, but unambiguously those who have not been “discipled” in their Christian walk. This book helps the believers define or redefine their credo i.e. a statement of beliefs defining what one believes.
The author condenses her responses to the above question in ten chapters. Faithful to her title, Rooted and Built up in Christ, King’ori uses subtopics to further break down her discourses to a simpler, but not necessarily basic, titles. Pursuant to the book’s subtitle, “A Discipleship Resource for Believers in Christ,” she uses a teaching technique to present her opinions and offers contemplative questions for review at the end of each chapter, making it easy for the reader to follow and dialogue with the text. Chapters 1-7, King’ori focuses on the new believer’s basic understanding of salvation and the tools available to lead a successful Christian life, while Chapters 8-10, focuses on specific desirable habits for a successful Christian.
The author begins at a seemingly but important basic level defining repentance (2015, 13). She quickly follows this with responses to the question, what happens after salvation, and offers that often new believers, and even older Christians, have doubts about salvation (2015, 14). She avers this as an attack on the believers thought life.
She builds on this in discussing the importance of giving testimonies and explains what the testimony does to the body of Christ. A testimony, King’ori offers, is “a great poster for readers to know where your allegiance is” (2015, 40). In addition, she contends that for a new believer to be a successful Christian, there must be a deliberate separation with the old company; otherwise there is a risk of one finding themselves “back to the old ways” (2015, 40).
After one gets saved, or gives their life to the Lord, King’ori posits, one becomes a member of God’s family. “The family of God,” she says, “includes (all) believers who lived in the past, those living now, and those that will be born again in future” (2015, 51). The earthly families, she argues, “are temporal while the Christian families are permanent” (2015, 51). Being a member of this family means one is a child of God and should therefore never feel alone (2015, 52). This is where the real work commences – Living the Christian Life.
King’ori poses, “now that I am a Christian, how do I live my life?” (2015, 61). She follows this with a profound statement, “When we get saved,” she says, “the Holy Spirit comes to reside in our spirit and becomes our resident teacher and helper…He (the Holy Spirit) is not only the agent of our salvation but also the agent of our transformation and empowerment” (2015, 62). Our lives, she adds, should be focused towards God, since after all we are not our own bosses anymore. Quoting John’s epistle (John 17:16), King’ori, suggests that as Christians “we are in the world but not of the world” (2015, 64). She suggests that Christians are people transformed by the renewed mind and therefore ought to live a life that brings light where there is darkness; a life that stands out rather than blend. She outlines five disciplines of the mind that one can develop towards a healthy mind namely: guarding your mind; renewing your mind; setting your mind on the things above; proactively thinking on positive things; and fighting for your mind (2015, 66-68).
Still focusing on how a born again individual can live a successful Christian Life, King’ori discourses on the work of and witness of the Holy Spirit and how this plays a role in strengthening one’s Christian life. She offers her personal testimony of how baptism in the Holy Spirit strengthened her Christian life, but quickly qualifies that baptism in the Holy Spirit is neither a panacea for all problems nor a dose for perfection (2015, 82). Temptations and Trials will still come whether you are filled/baptized with the Holy Spirit or not. Temptations, she adds, is not a sin; it’s the yielding thereon that is sin (2015, 101). She addresses the common sources of temptations and positing that God does not tempt (2015, 106) while differentiating temptations from tests asserting that tests originate from God, while temptations originate from the enemy. She adds, “A test or a trial is then a God given opportunity to practice and prove some specific growth parameters in our relationship with the Lord” (2015, 116). In response to the question, “How should we respond to temptations,” she offers several approaches including; resisting the devil, being sober, and being vigilant, among others.
In her closing she suggests that Christian growth is supposed to be continuous, yet for this to happen, one needs to have an appetite for God. An appetite for God is evident through the communication one has with God. She avers that “Prayer is the most important activity a child of God can be engaged in. Prayer is not an option,” she says, “but an absolute necessity” (2015, 148). Prayer, she adds is an invitation to God to be involved in an individual’s affairs. And as this happens, one begins to bear fruits such as serving and being involved in Christian affairs, Church ministries, and so on. She further suggests that as one serves in their area of interest and or calling they indeed are serving God, which is a privilege (2015, 176).
While the book’s layout promotes its readability, the pages are undoubtedly filled with wisdom, knowledge, insights, motivation, and revelation. The illustrations and testimonies offered (2015, xii) are relevant, realistic, relate-able and representative of the Christian Faith. The author has generously used biblical texts, with their references, to support her theme and opinion without overwhelming the pages with the same. The author’s fidelity to her goal of giving new converts assurance of their salvation (2015, ix) and those stuck in a religious rut not to get mixed up in doctrines without knowing where to turn to (2015, ix) is evident through the pages.
A young man, years ago, found the love of his heart. Dearly as he could, he loved the damsel and a happy lot they were. Together, always, travelling and seeing the world, parks, zoos, house of blues, parties, together they always were, a happy time of their lives. Always looking forward to be together for more happy moments.
At what the young man read to be the right timing, for her hand in marriage, a beautiful diamond ring he bought to seal the deal. At the right time, he thought, after the cake, a surprise it would be. He chuckled.
As if in agreement, the sun that morning sneaked early and so did the delivery man with the birthday cake. He too from the grocery, the snacks, refreshments and all else – it was creepy – everything fell meticulously in place. The guests, not to be left behind, drizzled in as scheduled. Was this the day or should there be another he pondered? Something did not seem right; his guts had sent a message, but who listens to guts? There was a party to enjoy and there would be no time wasted pondering endlessly.
Cake check; gifts check; birthday goofs check. Was this the time or should there be another he thought as his heart pounded and almost passing out from anxiety rush.
Finally after gathering courage in his bones, sheepishly he bent one knee, before her, the left hand resting over his left knee and with the right snapping open the beautifully wrapped box displaying the diamond ring, and stretched towards his love who stared at him and then ring in utter shock and disbelief.
After the cleaning up, he was to watch her walk away, a life forever changed. Rejected, wounded, and broken. “I can’t, and it’s not you”, she had said, quickly adding, “…but we can still be friends, right?”
“No,” he said loudly, but to himself. He knew this was it. It was over.
The night was freezing cold, and standing out there was not helping. Slowly as he shut the door, he took one last glance in time to see her shadow as it faded away into the darkness. Removing the ring from his pocket, he stared at it for a moment, placed it back in the box and snapped the lid.
A chapter closed. A broken heart. Forever.
Probably the biggest problem in marriage is spouses who bring nothing into the marriage but love. Margaret Hardisty in her book Marriage Takes More Than Love argues “you’ve got to bring more than just love to your marriage.” You may think you are truly in love but it maybe the hormones playing poker with you. When you wake up in the morning, look at your spouse, and you start wondering who poisoned your drink last night, then you probably aren’t ready for marriage. Marriage is beyond looks and beauty; it’s beyond the hour glass figure and a perfect body. Don’t play into infatuation –it’s a dangerous game, which in the end leaves two severely hurt people, with broken trust and doubtful whether they will ever trust a member of the opposite sex again.
A couple of years back, my lawn looked horrible after the winter – it was all gray and the grass had no form of life in it. In my busy schedule, I had overlooked some much needed lawn maintenance and the weeds had now overgrown the otherwise neat grass. It was just a matter of time and I would lose the yard to the weeds. I couldn’t let that happen. I had spent far too much on my lawn, and I knew what joy it gave me when it was at its best. I was committed to help it revive and I knew it would take time to bring it back to its former beauty, but I was committed to restore its lost glory.
Every evening after work thereon, I would take my garden implements and slowly and meticulously uproot every weed by hand. This took several weeks, as I progressed in my weed elimination battle. It was hard labor but slowly I could see the impact of my labor. After I was done, I applied the right fertilizer, and made sure the sprinklers worked in the right cycle. With that, the lawn had no choice but to spring back to life albeit gradually.
When marriage starts showing signs of “malnutrition,” it is asking for attention. When grace is thrown to the curb and everything you do or see undergoes a trashing from the other spouse, you immediately know something is amiss and the weeds have invaded your marriage. Certain signs in marriage mean something completely different from what you can interpret with your simple observation. A good marriage, like a good lawn requires time and patience. There are times your marriage will be rosy and everything works according to plan. But in other times, the center cannot hold longer and your marriage is threatened with an evacuation and subsequent collapse. At this point, no word of consolation would bring sense to your spouse, as every kind deed is trashed and harsh words become frequent. When this happens, do not uproot the lawn – it’s more work uprooting – rather nature it consistently and don’t be frustrated with the slow progress. Separate the grass from the weeds and take your time and effort to do what you have to do for your marriage to reinstate its faded glory.
Sometimes spouses choose to be the arresting officers, the prosecutors and the judges, and mercilessly convict and condemn our spouses when they wrong us. Without care or feelings, we embarrass them and shame them in public not knowing we are doing disservice to ourselves. Grace has no spot in such an engagement, and as such no grace is exercised when dealing with our spouses – this is a dangerous way to fight a battle – because when that spouse fights back, it will be ugly.
As long as you know you can contribute something to the good of your marriage, don’t give up on it. Remember the love of the earlier years, the giggles and sweet nothings you all shared, cooking anything that came to your minds, movie nights, the late night walks and so on. Remember when she would call and say that her car broke and she needs a ride home. You would not even care that she lived in another city, nor worry about what time of the night it was, or which tornado was on its way. You would instead hop into your vehicle, and like an armored knight, drive through the most dangerous stretches to rescue your beloved. This is what set the spark, if you look deep enough, it’s still there, and if you choose to, you can re-ignite that flame of your marriage. Be humble enough to start again.
Do you imagine how much effort you take to get back something that was taken away from you? For example, when a virus has hijacked your computer making it inoperable? You don’t even wait, you swing into action and take it to the best technician to have it cleaned and restored because you value it. Love may not necessarily be a factor, but the value you have invested in that computer and the belief that it can be restored motivates you to keep trying. If you can put such effort into your marriage, you will be amazed at how quickly you are walking towards and probably need to put in your human heart, and the willingness to let your spouse be better than you are. A willingness to put a foot on your ego and allow your spouse to mount up as an eagle.
Tests don’t have to result in breakages and marital disasters. Don’t be quick to trade your spouse with a new and younger problem free lad or lass. Don’t forget that once your spouse was like that lad or lass –immaculate, loving, caring, beautiful body and all that. Remember every caterpillar was once a butterfly and similarly as familiarity builds, the purring newness changes to a rough crank. Don’t get into marriage with nothing but love. There are times when in marriage love is absent, what will make you stick to your spouse? You have to bring something more than just love to your marriage, something you can hang onto when love wears out.
A good marriage, if indeed there is one, is the one with grace, patience here, attention there, some care here, some love there. This makes the marriage stronger and unbreakable, and the marriage walls closely knit together to withstand the storms of life when they come. Above all, don’t give up on your marriage too soon, unless it is abusive. If this marriage did not work, the next one will not. Statistics indicate 50% of all first marriages fail but divorce rates of the second marriages are estimated to be over 70% – I’m not sure that this is not skewed in one way or another but it does give an idea that you may be better off with your first marriage. Don’t compare your marriage with others – every marriage, no matter how perfect it may appear in the outside, has its own issues and you have no idea what the spouses are hiding. Remember every coin has two side and all your friends would like to show you is the heads, i.e. how good their marriage is – a happy family. Instead work on yours, it could genuinely be better.
When you encounter problems in marriage, don’t start figuring who to call – you are the best solution, and you are best implenter. Remove pride, remove selfishness, remove anger and put on respect. Then sit down both of you and talk. I could go on and on, but this is a good place stop. By the way, have you had a chance to read my book – A Reason to Carry On? It’s not the only answer, but it will help you rebuild, and carry on with life. You can purchase yourself a copy at Amazon.com, Barnes and noble and other leading bookstores. What’s the point? Don’t give up on your marriage too soon.
Marriage is expensive to maintain. It takes time, it takes creativity, it takes money, but most of all it takes more than love. Once you get married you will forever remain married, and never would you be considered single, unless of course erroneously. Marriage is a consummation and not an action – and once you board that vessel called marriage, you cannot disembark without affecting other riders e.g. children, family, friends, parents, brothers, and so on. The roaring tides of success often threaten marriages, as couples blinded by this fruitless pursuit endanger not only the vessel, but themselves and others as well.
As long as the marriage is still a ‘marriage’, the vessel will, at some point in time, inadvertently stray into stormy waters. Depending on the spouses desire to sail to safety, they can easily navigate their vessel to safer waters or sail into higher and wilder waves. Marriages that have recently experienced life changes events e.g. a newborn, a new job, a job loss, a promotion, death in the family, just about anything that affects either spouse, often face severe and destructive dark storms.
A recent survey revealed the majority of separated or divorced men blamed the wife for being argumentative and disrespectful. On the other hand, the majority of divorced wives accused husbands of not putting enough commitment into the relationship (agenzia Fides 2010). In another article by Leslie Bennetts, The Truth About American Marriages, she argued “nearly 70% of the men surveyed said they “never” think about leaving their wives, whereas nearly half of the women said they think about leaving their husbands at least occasionally–and sometimes daily” (Bennetts 2010).
I’m told there’s a small community, in a country that will remain nameless, called “Forget Marriage”. This community has one goal – forget your marriage. Husbands and wives would visit this community and consume as much alcohol as their system would hold, in a bid to forget their marriages. Sadly, after weeks of alcohol binges, most in their drunken stupor come to reality and stagger, broke, back home to the same marriage they had wanted to forget. Think about it, people who once loved each other, had children together now have grown so far apart, they are willing to brainwash themselves and forget that they were ever married!
Marriage troubles are often insignificant if proper maintenance is done on the marriage vessel. The problem though is proper vessel maintenance is not done and yet there is so much expectation from the marriage. Suffice it to say, there is hope in every marriage, and there is no one marriage better than the other. Couples owe it to each other the responsibility of bringing happiness to their marriage. If the couple treats each other with decorum and respect, that marriage will flourish. If they treated each other as they would individually want to be treated, that marriage would be fun.
The greatest challenge in marriage is when a couple measures their marriage achievements and failures with those of another. All marriages are different just as every couple is different, and comparing marriages is more like comparing oranges and lemons, so close yet so distinctly different. The moment this happens, cracks start revealing in the vessels bow, and the conversations start to change. “You don’t respect me as Jones’s wife does”,” you don’t treat me like Smith treats his wife”, and so on and so forth, and unless that broken bow is repaired by admitting it was wrong to compare the marriage to ‘Jones’ marriage, that marriage will be pursuing a completely different goal to be like the others.
Couples should not be detoured to pursue the port of a successful or a perfect marriage. It simply does not exist. How do you measure a successful or perfect marriage? What are the thresholds? Every marriage is unique, and the fact that a couple is still together in marriage, trying to make it better than it was last year, last month, last week, yesterday, is in itself success and warrants a toast. It is misleading to hear people define successful or happy marriages and putting other marriages under unnecessary pressures to be the such. Marriage is a choice, and if you are happy where you are, that is your port of success and your port of perfection.
When your marriage sails through stormy waters, take time to understand where you are and slowly and steadily navigate to safety. Sometimes that safety may be a temporary place to help you both recalculate how long you are willing to continue or whether you would rather let the marriage vessel break in the rough torrents of the ocean, as you swim to safety. Sometimes, time is the best refuge. It takes away the exhaustion and frustrations of a bedeviling journey. Start with yourself, and go through what you know. Your internal reference; did you do everything correctly, what could you have done differently, did you overstretch your reaction, were you too harsh, were you too unrealistic? Go through your personal values as honestly as you can, and make amends – Don’t be too proud not to go to your spouse and say, “I was wrong you were right and I’m sorry for this or that”. More often than not, apologies always allow your marriages vessel to go several more naughts in bliss.
However, if you marriage is abusive, it means your vessel is allowing water and you need intervention sooner than later. You cannot continue with the journey in a broken vessel. You cannot save yourself. Seek immediate help for your safety and disembark. There could be serious consequences if you fail to get help, refuse to be a statistic and admit your vessel is in danger, and you need help. Talk to a trusted friend, your best friend, your pastor and let them know what is going on. If your marriage is abusive don’t for a moment think you can fix it involve the authorities, there are far too many perverts out there and you’d rather be safe than sorry. Never justify your spouse’s abuse, never cover your spouse’s abuse, it only gets worse. The sooner the abuse stops the better it will be for both of you.
Marriage is for those who are quick to upgrade their vulnerable weak past and invest into a future of hope. Those who look out for the other and willing to outdo them in doing good, those willing to not only put their time but their very lives into the marriage. Marriage is therefore not for the weak and faint in heart. It’s for those who are willing to influence and see positive transformation in their spouse. It’s for those who are mature enough to take care of their spouse with a sincere heart of service. It’s for those who see the weakness in their spouse and still choose to work together to overcome them. It’s for those who see the empty bank account and still choose to live with their spouse.
I learnt many years ago that you can’t learn how to swim without getting your feet wet. Certainly, marriage is not the kind of thing that you play around with. The emotional ties are so deep you can easily change the life of one person overnight or severely affect the life of another with the simple use of words as weapons. What these two people bring with them to the marriage table will determine whether they are ready to fight for their marriage. If they get into marriage armed with pounds of love to last them a lifetime and bring nothing else, they will have severe challenges, for marriage cannot thrive on love alone. However, if they bring enough love with perseverance, patience, kindness and all those spices of goodness, that marriage will survive the storms. As such, couples who are not ready to invest in a marriage should not get anywhere near it.