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Monday, April 9, 2012

Choosing the Light

Easter is an important time to take stock of our lives, our values and our purpose. For me Easter is a particularly powerful time as I reflect on the suffering of my Lord Jesus Christ, and His great sacrifice to wipe away our sins. I think about the people who scorned and rejected Him, the people who crucified Him. They must have been filled with such hate.

It is a sad fact that there will always be hateful people around us, just as it is a fact that people with genuine goodwill also exist. Even at the beginning of time, according to the book of Genesis, Kane was jealous of his brother Abel. So much so he killed his own brother. When asked where his brother was by the Lord he retorted, "Am I my brothers keeper?"

There will always be people who choose to hate others based on various things including race, religion, sex and even tribe. They may choose to hate others based on how they live their lives and what they stand for. And yet the Bible tells us that the greatest commandment of all is to LOVE. Sounds easy, but in practice it seems far more difficult, and the mind finds all kinds of reasons to justify placing hate above love.

Let us take a moment to look at ethnic hate. If racism is wrong then tribalism is just as wrong, but while we abhor racism here in Kenya, we choose to embrace tribalism. Adolf Hitler was a truly disturbed and evil man, yet with his charisma and due to difficult economic and social times, he was able to mobilize the masses to support pure and sick evil, the massacre of over six million people - the holocaust. The word holocaust is Greek, holo means whole and caust means burnt. The holocaust was a vile and horrifying strategy to destroy all the Jews and those not considered perfect or part of the Aryan race, which Hilter himself did not qualify for.

In Rwanda, as Tutsi's and moderate Hutu's woke up on that first morning of the genocide in April 1994, they could not have imagined their neighbors would be there, ready to hack them to death. But they were, and it happened. In Kibuye and Bugesera they say blood flowed like a river. The blood of babies, children, mothers and fathers, the elderly. There was no mercy, there was no humanity. Pure and horrifying evil.

I have suffered two racist attacks in my life. I will share those experiences later but what has been most elucidating for me was this - the mood and spirit of the post election violence in Kenya in 2008 bore the same stench of racial hatred I experienced earlier in my life. Essentially racism and tribalism are siblings, children of Hate and Bigotry. They thrive in a community of Ignorance.

If you are embracing hate in your life, hate of any kind, take a moment to look at it carefully and analyze where it is coming from. Then give yourself a gift by letting it go. Just let go. Let it flow away. If you don't it will eat at you like a cancer.

Choose to focus your life on positive things and you will start to see opportunities everywhere, where instead you previously saw challenges - of course your vision was impaired by the veil of hate, division and self-righteousness.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beyond Expectations

I have known Njenga Karume for a long time - as a matter of fact, since I was a child. My mother was his secretary for many years. Often, when at his Cianda House office in town, I would marvel at the numbers of people that would gather to see him. All kinds of people, a veritable hotpot, a mixture of tribes, races and ages with a myriad of issues.

And he would make time for them all. Equal time. No, the rich man in the dapper suit with a business deal was not more important than the old wizened woman in the tattered clothes seeking school fees for her grandchildren. They were all treated alike. This is what impressed me most about Karume. 

There are great lessons to learn from his rags to riches story, captured in his book Beyond Expectations. There are also many lessons to learn from his political career that spanned decades, including his involvement in the struggle for multiparty democracy and the search for a new constitution. But, for me, the greatest lessons from the life of Njenga Karume are captured in the simple appreciation of, and empathy with, all people.

A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to interview Karume. We rushed to his Cianda home in Kiambu with the crew and by chance the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, came to pay Karume a courtesy visit. Odinga spoke of a relationship that went back many, many years. Of instances in politics where it was personal relationships that held things together. He spoke of his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga's  relationship with Karume, and also of his own relationship with Karume too. After this there was a lovely Church service and it was time for my interview. Everyone was very concerned that he was tired and he was in pain, but nevertheless he sat for the interview.

I asked him what his greatest life lessons were... He said, wealth is not everything, "you cannot eat from two plates at the same time... We must focus on serving the nation." He went on, "When we were young, we did not think about tribes or wealth, we just thought about Kenya. How could we free Kenya? How could we build Kenya? We need to go back to that." 

I thought that was profound. He added that the older generation should come out more to share these messages with the youth. I wished I had done that interview much earlier but I was still glad to have it then. Several hours later I was devastated at the office when I was told the tape had some issues, we spent hours trying to salvage the footage but it was no good, it was unusable. 

I humbly requested another sitting and he accepted. But the next day he was so tired, there were scores of people visiting with him and I knew it was just not going to work. We started the interview but after a few minutes I cut it short. He needed to rest. He is resting now.

To his family I can only say thank you for sharing Mzee with us for so many years. He was a people person and a person of the people. To young people struggling to make it in Kenya today, let me try to summarize the lessons I have learnt from Karume...

Think not of oneself but of the bigger picture, the greater justice, the greater good. In building a better society you secure your future. 

Build strong genuine networks they will be integral to your personal growth and development. 

Treat all people alike, they are all children of God. 

Finally, as Rudyard Kipling says in his poem IF - you must seek to talk with crowds but keep your virtue, and walk with Kings nor lose the common touch.

RIP Mzee Njenga wa Karume.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Asked and Not Answered

When I was a little girl I would pray fervently, as I still do today. As early as I can recall (and I have some pretty early memories going as far back as 3 years of age) I loved God deeply... And I knew he loved me too.

I grew up a Catholic and my family worshipped at Holy Family Basilica, smack in the middle of the Nairobi CBD. I was in awe of the Church and loved Sunday service. But every Sunday I would watch and then pray, even more fervently, about two particular things... 

First, I would pray,  "Dear Lord, please never, ever, ever let me breastfeed in public!"  Of course as a young girl I would see mothers in and around the Church who were breastfeeding and at that self conscious age I thought is was quite humiliating!

The second thing I would pray about was based on something a beloved Nun at my school Loreto Convent Msongari told us... "The Lord may call you to serve Him so be ready to heed His call." I thought that meant he would call us to be Nuns. I really, really  didn't want to be a Nun so I would pray, "Please, please Lord don't choose me. There are so many other amazing people, please choose one of them!"

But they say the Lord laughs as we make our plans... He must have laughed heartily at my passionate, naive prayers.

When I had my first child close to twelve years ago, all protocol was out the window immediately. My priority was feeding my child.  While in public I would try to be subtle and graceful about it, but I really did not care where I was or who was in the vicinity if I needed to feed my hungry child. I would just go ahead and do it. And I must say the experience of breastfeeding and bonding with all my children has been one of the greatest joys of my life. 

Prayer number one not answered and I am the better for it.

On to prayer number two. All my life I have read the Bible with a thirst for knowledge and understanding. All my life I have sought to understand the will of God and to please Him. When I was that young girl trying to avoid the work of service, I did not realize that the blessed seed was already planted in me and that we can serve Him in every aspect of our lives at every moment. I did not have to become a nun to be called. I am honored each and every day to serve and worship our Lord. 

Prayer number two not answered and I am the better for it.

You may be praying for something with all the passion and conviction in the world, believing that it is right for you, but He knows better.

Sometimes we just need to say,

 "Lord, today I leave all matters in your great hands.
You will determine my path.
For you alone are God and I have absolute faith that you only want the best for me." 


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Success & Authenticity

I love success stories, rags to riches stories - they keep hope alive in each of us, and hope is so important. I watched a recent Oprah interview with the very private Ralph Lauren, founder of the prolific Polo brand, and I was inspired. Amazing talent, strong successful brand, happy family and a beautiful expansive ranch where he lives a simple and authentic life.

The beauty of this story is emphasized by the fact that his parents were Russian immigrants. He made it through passion, hard work and sheer determination. But it is not enough to succeed. Many people achieve success and remain unhappy. One of my leadership mentors from the Aspen Institute told of a dinner with one of the world's most powerful leaders (now retired). He seemed really low in spirit and when they engaged in a candid conversation the world leader revealed that he had great regrets about his tenure and his life. He carries these regrets with him as the world continues to perceive him as an accomplished and successful man. He feels like a failure.

This brings me back to the word authentic. True... Real... Not to others, but to yourself. How does one live an authentic life? My advise to young and old alike is simple... Get in touch with your inner child. We are most authentic as children. Open, honest and real. Our gifts and passions are most obvious when we are children, before the world beats them out of us or convinces us to do away with our talents, our hopes and dreams.

Ralph Lauren lives a real cowboy life and when asked by Oprah whether he always wanted to be a cowboy he explained he wanted to be everything, a cowboy, a baseball player, a basketball player...I was totally stunned and delighted when he went on to say, "I wanted to be Batman! The ability to stay young... The ability to enjoy what you enjoyed when you were a kid. Not to give up the hope and the excitement is important."

That life is a gift is no doubt. We should then live it with all the hopes and dreams we can. Live it to the full. Try, try and try again and keep the hope and energy and love for life alive. How can one start? Try to remember who you were then, what you loved, what you wanted from life and write these things down. And then look into yourself and ask, am I where I should be?

You might find that you have some very interesting answers to that question.

Blessings :o)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Building Self Esteem

I was so blessed to have the opportunity to join the Citizen TV  Kubamba crew at State House Girls for praise and worship this Sunday, and I had such a great time. The topic was self esteem and I was amazed at all the energy the girls exuded. 

However as I left after the show, quite a few girls pulled me aside to talk about their self esteem issues. Beautiful girls who feel they are not pretty enough, capable girls who feel they are not clever enough, wonderful girls who feel they are not good enough... We are truly held back by our own lack of belief in ourselves. Truth is, these girls opened up to me but there are many adults suffering the same torment. 

A few weeks ago I wrote the poem below. I was thinking about how important it is to accept ourselves and to let others accept themselves too. I designed it for children but hopefully it will have impact on children and adults alike, and maybe be a blessing for someone struggling with esteem issues.

I Love Me 
by Julie Gichuru

I love me and I'm proud of it,
I am not ashamed to declare it.

Some may say I am far too short 
But I love that I am not too tall...

Some may say I am far too tall
But I love that I am not too short...

Some may say I am far too fat,
But I love me... Each and every part...

Some may say that I am far too thin,
But I still love the the skin I am in...

Don't like the way I walk?
Or the way I talk?
That's a crying shame!
But all the same -
I love me and I'm proud of it...
Walk, talk and all.

He made me in His  image,
I must be perfect.
If not, the imperfection is me,
And I love me -
So I'm proud of it.

White, black, tall, fat,
I love me.
Strong, weak, brave, meek,
I love me.

So love you too,
And be proud of you,
Perhaps then you'll see
The world anew.

I love me and I'm proud of it.
I pray that you love you too.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Of Common Men and Superheroes

There is a magic in the story of the superhero who takes on the great and torturous responsibility of defending good and fighting evil. From Superman, Spiderman and Batman to Wonder-woman, Dr Jean Gray and Susan Storm,  for decades I have been entertained and inspired by fantastic, heart-thumping, tearjerking and inspirational tales.

Recently I have taken to watching Stan Lee's Superhero's on Discovery Channel, which profiles real life people with amazing abilities and seeks to determine whether they are Superhero's or not. First, let me declare that I am a huge Stan Lee fan. He is the prolific creator of some of our greatest fictional characters. He co- created the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor, and my firm favorite, the X-men. Like JR Tolkien and CS Lewis, I have always believed that fantastic adventures and dramatic story lines can capture the hearts and minds of children and help them develop strong value systems and a strong passion for good. 

This powerful form of influence strikes me as all the more important as I watch Stan Lee look into the possibility that real life Superhero's are walking the earth each and every day. While the people he profiles show amazing physical capabilities beyond the limits of ordinary human beings, it is the power of mind over matter that seems to repeatedly have an impact on these abilities. Determination to rise above the odds and achieve a greater end - that to me is the spirit of the superhero, and I am delighted to say that there are many walking the earth today. 

Let me finish with the words of one of my favourite Superhero's ever, the simple fictional Samwise Gamjee of the Lord of the Rings. Speaking to Frodo, he said...

 "I know. It's all wrong.  By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."

Frodo: "What are we holding onto, Sam?"

Sam: "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for."

My greatest superheroes are the simple and ordinary people who are thrust into greatness by fighting for something good in the world...

 Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, our very own Wangari - and the greatest of them all, Jesus Christ.

Do you have some real life Superhero's that you admire and respect? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

God Transforms Challenges into Opportunities

I was horrified some months ago to find that there were rumors online and subsequently out in the real world too, alleging that I am a victim of domestic violence. It was perplexing to me that someone could actually sit down and fabricate such a thing and take the time and energy to push such malicious lies... And yet someone did, with plenty of energy and determination. I have no idea what the motivation of this person was but I can tell you this, what goes around always comes around. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.

Leaving the matter of retribution in the hands of my Lord, I nevertheless had to deal with intense annoyance and irritation at the whole thing. It was also very hurtful to see my hubby have to suffer the tag of wife beater, when he actually treats me like a flower. It was also upsetting to imagine that girls who look up to me could fall for the whole story, and mistakenly conclude that perhaps being battered is not such a big deal.

Let me be clear. Battering is extreme abuse. It is criminal. No certificate gives anyone the right to do inflict harm on another. It is unacceptable. Period. There are no excuses. I know plenty of single parents bringing up children and I am sure that a child would rather grow up in a safe environment with less privilege and money, than in a wealthy but violent and loveless home. Children need love and stability, the damage inflicted by a violent environment far outweighs other considerations. As for me, I would never accept any form of physical or emotional abuse from anyone. I respect myself and have always expected those around me to do the same. I wish the same for every woman, man and child.

However, after being annoyed for a while I started to see the silver lining... Yes indeed, the silver lining. Because when life hands you lemons, you must simply get into the business of making lemonade. I started to see my blessings even more clearly. I looked at my hubby and appreciated even more the patient, strong and amazing man that he is. He was unshaken, and we resolved to remain positive and focused. I then looked at my potential to address the situation and realized, because it had never affected me directly, the issue of violence in the home was never a priority for me. But now a passion had been stirred by someone who had nothing but bad intentions.

As a result, I am speaking out on this issue more and more, to girls, to women, to boys and to men and I am working on ways to spread the message that peace, respect and love in the home, means peace respect and love in society. Violence and hate in the home means violence and hate in society. We must decide to live our best life and leave a positive legacy. After all, our time on this earth is so short. 

Judas may have betrayed Jesus but God used his greed and evil intentions for the greater good. God turns challenge into opportunity, and gives you the chance to turn that opportunity into a blessing - thank you Lord for giving me the opportunity to make a difference. Each time you face a challenge, remember to ask yourself where the opportunity lies - i believe that you will find that our awesome Lord will give you the chance to turn it around for the greater good. 

I'd love to know, have you ever had a challenge that God changed into an opportunity? If so, please do share your story :)