I met Jennifer when she was working at a Starbucks. I was with a friend who knew her and she introduced me to Jennifer. As we walked away, she said, “Jared is dating Jennifer and she’s one of the loveliest girls you will meet.” Well, I’ve had a couple other chances to chat with Jenn and she really is as precious as my friend said. I think you will find – Inspiring Women: Life With Jennifer – unique, since she lives in a foreign country and is still adapting and learning the culture of Africa.
Inspiring Women: Life With Jennifer
I’ve read a few of these and have been able to really resonate with their everyday stories and trials. Often when reading it feels like I wrote them, so what do I have to add that’s any different?
But I guess God uses everything—every story, every life—to touch different people at different times.
A Little About Me
I’m a wife married to a wonderful man, Jared. We’ve been married for five years. I’m also a mom who, after my baby (Seth) was four months old, decided it would be a good idea to pack up everything we had, put it in storage, and move to Kenya for 3 years with 2 suitcases each (even my eyes got wider after typing this). I was never one to think I would want to live in Africa. My husband wanted to start a Masters program, and we were trying to stay out of debt/follow where we thought God was leading us. It’s turned out to be a great adventure, with definite challenges at times, and we’re currently finishing our last year with a now 2 1/2-year-old.
These past two years living in Africa have changed us:
- Waking up to rattling in our kitchen, only to find out that the biggest rats I’ve ever seen have been snacking on our pasta
- learning that we need to lock our front door if we want any privacy (I’ll discuss this later)
- Never knowing if you’ll get a hot or a cold shower each day
- Waiting for clothes to dry on outdoor lines after two days of rain
- tasting the best and most flavorful food I’ve ever had in my life, and the worst
- dealing with public transit that is never on time and always wondering if you’ll arrive alive
- developing a “Kenyan” accent so that people will understand you
- being able to differentiate black people more easily
- learning about African history and the conflicts our friends are dealing with in their home countries daily. It really puts everything into perspective.
- making deep friendships with so many different kinds of people (past child soldiers, imprisoned pastors, the most heartfelt pastors, the cutest African babies and children, friends raised in a polygamous family, refugees, illiterate Christians, Muslims, and friends living through ethnic violence and civil wars).
My Daily Routine
As any mom reading this knows, routine is ever changing. Since the beginning of September, I’ve been trying to get up early enough to read a little, maybe worship, and have some time to myself before Seth wakes up. However, it seems like, no matter how early I wake up, he knows. Whether it be 6am or 7am. He doesn’t seem to make a peep until I open our bedroom door in our small two bedroom flat. After tip-toeing to the kitchen to grab some toast and tea, I think the coast is clear and grab my Bible to sit down. I finish one chapter and hear, “Mommy! Mommy! It’s daytime! Come wake me up!”. Maybe he’s just sleep talking. I wait. “Mommy! Mommy! It’s daytime!” Nope. Not sleeping.
And this is usually how my day seems to begin.
Make breakfast for the family.
Brew coffee for the husband.
Try to read a little more, but instead get drawn into changing diapers, feeding toddler his breakfast, and reading him stories.
Two mornings a week he’ll go to “school” and this is when I’ll finally get to have some time to myself if there is nothing else going on that morning (I know this must sound like a DREAM to some of you!). I have learned to be thankful for the little moments in each week when I get to sit down and have some “me” time, even if it’s not every day. This keeps me going, and mornings are my jam. After bedtime at 7, I crash as well. I also am very thankful for a studying husband, whose school schedule allows for me to pull him away a lot more than a working dad. We also have someone helping us three days a week to clean and cook. This frees up a lot of time for me to naturally, fill with other things. Because of this freedom, I’m able to spend a lot more time just being with my family and I’m able to work from home.
My little, part-time job brings me a lot of joy.
For the past year, I’ve been working in the afternoons teaching English from home to students in China. It is the best job for me right now because I have someone to help with Seth if Jared is in class, and I can help support Jared in his studies and provide for our family here. It is also so much fun! Imagine: sitting in your PJ’s, in your bedroom, for a few hours, talking to 5-12-year-olds about the letters A, B, C, and sometimes even anime. They’re not super interested, so you spice it up a bit. Add in props, rewards, crazy faces, and super enthusiasm; they’re sold. They laugh and you laugh, and then you say goodbye.
After teaching, it’s supper time, play time, bath time, bed time, and dishes/clean up after play time.
(If anyone wants to know more about this amazing, work from anywhere and at any time, opportunity to teach English to cute little Chinese children, email me! It’s the perfect stay-at-home mom job, with flexible hours and schedules! firstname.lastname@example.org)
Joys in My Life
I was actually just thinking about this. There is so much to be joyful about these days!
I have the sweetest little family and the most supportive husband. Our family and friends back home have never stopped supporting us even if they thought this move was insane. We have an amazing (AMAZING) community of friends and other moms here in Kenya, which I didn’t expect. We live in 24/7 summer (Except a few months of the rainy season), with no humidity, which means playing outside all day every day is a possibility.
We’re healthy and we serve a God who has blessed us so immensely. Watching our little boy grow up in such a foreign environment and learning from people from so many different cultures has really opened our eyes to how BIG God is. And it is in these moments of rest and focus that I actually remember this. I daily forget.
Struggles of My Day
This is where my life seems to be like every other moms’: tantrums, entertaining toddlers, more tantrums, time outs, saying “be nice!” and trying to teach what this means more times than I can number, potty training, “do you have to pee?”, “please just sit on the potty!”, smiling, laughing, and seeing him find joy in the little things and…repeat?
Seth is an amazing toddler, but he is a toddler. And to every mother, whether they have one or five, mothering is tiring. It brings out the best and the worst in us. There are days of bliss and days that you wish never happened. But, you get up every morning and choose to do it again because these children have become our life. They are our purpose. I have never found so much joy as I do mothering, but I also have never doubted myself as much as I do in the daily “am I doing this right?” moments.
It’s also not easy living in a culture/environment completely different from your own.
Summer all year round is great, but missing those crisp mornings of fall, the colours of changing leaves, the first snowfall and warm breeze of impending Spring all take a little bit of getting used to. Also, the traditional way of raising children here is very different than the “Canadian” way. Lots of stares and comments (“is he cold?” “Your dress is funny”, “please don’t let him cry!”, “Do you know your child is crying?!”) all make it very evident that you do not fit in.
We also have been struggling recently with our next steps after Jared finishes with school in April. We still don’t have a clue where we’ll be or where we’re supposed to be. For me, a planner and organizer of sorts, this has been one of the most difficult things about the past few months—living every day knowing that we are going back to no home, no car, no job, and no idea what’s next. Being the mother and wife of a family, and wanting to make sure everything is in order for everyone, I’m left in the waiting room, twiddling my thumbs.
I guess I’m not too much of a dreamer. I just want what’s best for our family and our growth! But, if I had to put my heart into words, it would turn into dreams like:
- Being an ordinary person who follows the extraordinary call of God (a call that he has for every one of us!). I hope to never settle for less than what he has called me to, no matter what the cost. Right now, I think that call involves loving and serving my family the best that I can.
- Seeing my children (one day) become best friends.
- Seeing my children grow in their understanding of who God is and who they are in Him.
- Settling somewhere for more than 3-4 years and being able to put down roots.
- Having an open door policy in our home, where anyone feels welcome to just come on in (even without knocking or calling before…but this one may take some time!)
Moments With God
This is where I feel like things are changing. It seems that even if I don’t have those daily, sometimes weekly, moments of sitting down to learn, I have grown so much in the past few years. One of our good friends back home always says, “Look at the past year. If you see God changing you in some way, be confident he is still working in you”. Why can’t I focus on the week-to-week? Because it depresses me and I don’t always see growth. I don’t have the same focus as I used to because I can’t. But God has been teaching me that this is ok. He is looking for the moments—you know those ones— the 10 second, “thank you for this life”, the 5 minutes of staring at the sunset and thinking, “wow God, you’re awesome”. And from day to day, this is what keeps me going.
It’s taking those seconds and a few minutes (which sometimes become an hour!) to choose thankfulness to redirect my day.
Jared and I have also been learning a lot about community recently. Community in Kenya looks very different. All day, if your door is unlocked, kids will just walk in. They don’t knock. You are expected to let them stay as long as they want. Also, it is quite unusual when someone makes a date to come see you. Imagine, 8pm rolls around and you are ready to settle in for the night. You hear a knock on the door. If you answer it, you will be hosting for an hour or more. If you pretend you aren’t there…well, this may have crossed our minds a few times. Community is so fluid here.
Community is in every aspect of life and is one of the most important pieces to this culture.
In the same way, I think this is where God has been leading our thoughts: community. In our families, in our churches, in our cities, this is what has always brought people together in the past and it is something that God created for us. It is also something that seems to be lacking in our western culture today. I was reading, in the few minutes, I had to sit this morning, Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest” devotional. This spoke so truly to my heart, and it was most definitely God’s way of using those few minutes to draw me to him. It read, “…It require[s] the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. This is inbred in us, that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not.
We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.”
Isn’t that the truth!
Some days, I wish the days away, like there is something greater to come (Yes, I live in Kenya, but I live a normal, everyday life like everyone else married to a student, does!). But God works in the present. It is in these days, moment by mundane moment, that God wants us to live. It is so much easier to do this when we are surrounded by amazing community, building into each other day after day. This is what I am learning, this is what God is teaching me, and this is what I have been desiring to create in these last few weeks and months here (along with wherever we go next). Living in the present, with all its struggles, challenges and joys, with the community we’ve been given and with a Creator that makes all of it come together in his perfect unity.
That is true life.
And it is here I realize that I’ve been searching for the kind of life I’ve had all along
If you’d like more of Jennifer’s beautiful writing, go to her blog where she journals about their travels in Africa: J, J & S Meet Nairobi.
I hope you were encouraged by, Inspiring Women: Life With Jennifer. I have so many beautiful, inspiring women you can read about, I will leave you with one more: Inspiring Women: Life With Laila
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