Keeping it Vertical

I woke up this morning with several thoughts on the purpose of my life, all because of a video I watched on the life of this talented 9-year-old girl showing off her skills in basketball and math. I got to thinking about what I was like as a nine-year-old and was filled with grief. As I iron my shirt and pants, my mind began to question as it does sometimes when I can’t think of parts of my childhood without grimacing. I begin to wonder why I experienced hurt before the age of ten, fear and resentment in my preteens, and the loss of one of my first friends and my immediate younger brother on my sixteenth year. Then I thought about people who experienced what I did and had a rougher time overcoming it. I thought about people who experienced far worse and were not able to survive it. I thought about what would’ve happened if I hadn’t. And I realized the difference was a faith in God.

When I hear of people who were once in the faith (commitment and relationship with God and Jesus Christ) lose that faith due to extenuating circumstances, I am equally compassionate and disappointed. Compassionate in the sense that I understand the struggle. Before, I held such a strong resentment in my heart that it was hard for people, even family, to understand me. I didn’t question God’s existence; I just questioned his consideration and love for me. How could He love me if things like this happened? It took the death of my brother Tonbara to shake me out of it. Imagine! To think that having one of my best friends and immediate brother die before me, could point me to the grace of God is something one could say sounds far-fetched, silly… but it happened to me. It made me acknowledge the sovereignty of God and how very real He was in every aspect of life.

So I put on my socks and shake my head in awe, thinking of the saints like Job and Paul. They had every reason to resent their circumstances. Job lost EVERYTHING, and what he had left encouraged him to “curse God and die.” He could’ve and no human on the face of this earth would blame him (except maybe his ridiculous excuses for friends). But even in his despair, even when he complained and wondered about his condition, he never once cursed God because he kept his thoughts vertical.

What do I mean by vertical? It’s essentially looking outside oneself and seeing God in the midst of it. For example, with his scathing boils and his nonsense companions provoking more hurt on him, Job praised God’s power and sovereignty while imploring God to reveal the reason for his hurt and suffering. He asked why but didn’t allow a spirit of doubt in the Creator. In the same way, Paul was in chains for Christ, and even though he suffered hardships, he counted it as great gain… even to the point of death. Even the man after God’s own heart, David, suffered countless hardships, some manufactured from his own foolishness, He didn’t blame God for what happened to him.

As I’m putting on my watch and bracelets, I think about my life and wonder how to keep my mind vertical rather than horizontal, horizontal in the sense that I allow self-pity and resentment to keep me from looking up. I think about the delays and “denials” currently and in the past and marvel at how easily it is to be discouraged or disillusioned about God’s purpose. How can I encourage someone when I’m not encouraged?

Then I think about Job and Paul once again. If they had gone through all of that and lost hope, people like me wouldn’t be encouraged by their testimony when we’re going through tough times. So by keeping their thoughts vertical and having a testimony of peace and joy in spite of their circumstances, I have hope in mine.

So then this prayer came to mind:

“Lord, I thank you for your Sovereignty and your unconditional love for me. I thank you that you thought of me when you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for me. I thank you that I am adopted into your family as a child of God, a daughter of the King. I know that the plans you have for me are good, to give me a future and a hope. When I think of the past, I often wonder if that was part of your plan. When I think of the present, I’m anxious about whether this is also part of your plan and if I’m walking in the purpose you have for me. But I know that every good and perfect gift comes from you. So I ask that you help me to allow your healing blood to soothe away the pain of the past. I thank you for restoring me to yourself, whole and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. I pray that I will be made whole in my heart and mind according to your will.

With my present circumstance, if it was because of my foolishness as David, I pray that you lead me out of it with a testimony to encourage someone in the future. However, if this present circumstance is according to your will, please give me the grace and joy that only comes from you to strengthen me on the journey. Help me to keep my mind focused on you in this season, knowing that surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life… and that you will never leave nor forsake me through it all. In your Son’s name I pray. Amen.”

By the time I put on my jacket and grab my keys, I’m smiling. I want a life where my thoughts align me to the will of God, vertical thinking. So I surrender my past hurts and present worries to God, He knows them all, and He gives me peace because I know that He’s heard me and will accomplish the good work He’s begun in me.

So friends, be encouraged and keep your mind vertical. God exists and he’s working things out for your good because He loves you.

 

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A Study of Energy and Urbanization in a West African Country

Sustainable Energy and Technology

For those who know me and are unfortunate to hear me speak on my beloved country, Nigeria, they’ll know exactly where this piece will go. You can probably already hear the groans and “oh-boys” among my circle of friends and loved ones. I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, neither am I a public speaker or grandiose orator. I’m just a concerned daughter, born and half-raised in Lagos, Nigeria before making the United States my home.

For most of my childhood in Nigeria, I remember the intermittent, flickering light and the long stretches of dark quiet in my neighborhood. Later on, the humming incessant noise of generators filled the silence and for a while, there was a respite from the uncomfortable darkness. I’ve never been a fan of darkness, a most uncomfortable visitor whenever it comes… unannounced and staying for longer than its welcome. As a child, it didn’t matter much since we were outside all the time, playing and making up stories. Our imagination occupied most of our childhood, although I do recall constantly counting the days turn into weeks, electricity becoming an unfaithful friend.

Both my parents had lived there for a time, in their university days, before returning home to raise five children. My childhood was a happy one, and I didn’t know any better about the stark differences between my homeland and the land of the free. Whenever electricity decided to come back for a brief visit, we’d watch cable and see the wonders of America. They had electricity every day, they lived comfortably! It seemed like a dream.

When we moved abroad, I was floored by the differences between our one-story flat in Ajegunle and our duplex home in Middlesex, UK. First, the present companionship of stable electricity. It never went out. We could sleep comfortably, knowing the light would be there to greet us when we woke. No more droning sounds of a generator! America was even better! I didn’t realize why there was such a sharp difference between my homeland and this one I now called home, didn’t care much about it until I went back again in 2009.

The problem with intermittent electricity turns out to be a vicious monopoly of electricity by an evasive but imminent presence called the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). Anyone who has spent up to a week or two in Nigeria is familiar with the fond but not funny name “NEPA.” When there is a power outage, either at home or across the world, we familiarly refer to the phenomenon as “NEPA.” It’s funny when you’re living in the United States, knowing your power will be restored eventually and readily. In Nigeria, it’s not a joke. It’s almost like a curse word when used.

NEPA is the power holding authority in Nigeria, as they boast on their website.  They govern the use and distribution of available electricity across the states in Nigeria. I won’t go into detail about what they do and how they do it. Some would argue that their work is subpar and unfair. If interested, I’ll put up a long thesis I wrote about NEPA. For now, I’m just highlighting the issues faced in Nigeria from an outsider’s point of view.

The reason why America has fewer problems with efficiently distributing power is because there is no true monopoly of power. In Houston, there are more than a handful of power companies competing with each other to provide electricity at lower rates per wattage to customers nationally. If there is so much of a delay or glitch providing electricity, the customer has every right to seek the service of another power company. Power companies can’t afford to lose their customer base and therefore are more efficient in their services.

Imagine if NEPA was no more. Or rather, there was privatization of power with many other companies stepping to the plate to provide electricity. Some would argue that this is just part of the problem. So what’s the other half? The other piece would be availability and sustainability of power. Without available power, there’s nothing to provide or rather, not enough to share and distribute. There are some many faces to this obscure but existing argument.

I’ve skimmed through several forums and talking boards, people seeking solutions and offering suggestions for the age-old problem Nigeria faces with their power problems. Some have suggested solar and wind power, all very good and innovative ideas. The thing that bothers me with these forums is that everyone wants to counterattack with negative, pessimistic criticism without offering a better solution.

For instance, one person mentioned installing solar panels since Nigeria has a considerable reservoir of sunlight compared to the frequently-gray London. The popular response was “that’s lame. Nigeria doesn’t have THAT much sunshine to utilize the energy efficiently.” It’s like a childish debate; countering someone else’s opinions and suggestions without offering a worthy statement of your own.

The more educated response would be to list facts for why Nigeria’s solar reservoir is depleting over the years and that the available storage needed to house the energy that can be captured isn’t adequate. Then someone else with more knowledge and expertise can tackle that with a solution; a better, more adequate means to store solar or wind energy.

Today, people choose to puff out their chests and show off their stacks of master and PhD degrees in geology and petroleum engineering, while Nigeria remains a third-world country. Does it make sense that we boast of our educated and acclaimed politicians, engineers and doctors when we can’t come up with a better country? Why is it that after so many years of so-called progress, with so many professionals earning their degrees overseas, that the country seems to be depleting in resources and technical expertise.

There’s compromise in every form. Professionals are doing under-the-table politics, engineers are doing subpar work and not following their engineer’s creed, doctors are working under subpar conditions because of lacking funds and resources. Yet there’s an annual increase in imports of million-dollar vehicles and goods. Ironically, engineers and the wealthy drive their escalades on unfinished roads, sit in traffic for HOURS, to get to “work” and stay there for a few hours before making the long drive home.

I choose not to mention the politics in Nigeria because I’m not an expert. Neither am I an expert in technology or science, but it’s what I immerse myself in on a daily basis. If these engineers, trained and bred in the United States, would actually apply what they’ve learned in their communities, wouldn’t there be a visible change? Even if it doesn’t pay, the community benefits from the work done.

There is potential for change in Nigeria if people are willing. Constant and sustainable electricity is possible, if funds are not siphoned into personal pocketbooks but to the cause that affects the country as a whole. Does it make sense that Nigeria who has imports comparable to Dubai, is a stark difference in comparison?

globalmap

Figure 1: Google Earth’s view in lights

The map above shows how dark the continent of Africa compares with the rest of the world. One can clearly note that in comparison with the United States, Europe and the modernized parts of Asia, Africa and more specifically, Nigeria, seems rather “dark and unconnected.” How unsettling this observation is considering how “rich” Nigeria is in its natural resources. According to Federal Republic of Nigeria’s official website, Nigeria is “richly endowed” with copious amounts of natural minerals such as gypsum, barites and marble (Table 1).

natresources

Table 1: Available natural resources in select states in Nigeria

Permit me a brief example about the non-utilization of our nation’s natural resources. When renovating our kitchen earlier this year, the contractor who recently traveled to Nigeria for a job mentioned copious amounts of marble in a landfill. He lamented that “they” had no idea what to do with marble and were wasting the valuable resource instead of utilizing or at least exporting it.

This is just one example of what happens with our available resources. The question that bothers me most is if there is not enough knowledge on how to utilize what we have and it goes unnoticed and/or wasted?  If other countries were given these rich reservoirs, would things be different?

Concerning the wind and solar energy not being sufficient, it’s all about storing and distributing the energy that is available. Solar or wind energy is renewable. It can be stored and spent daily, with different solutions to utilize stored energy through innovative technology. For example, implementing modular energy storage systems in stationary applications can help with the power-grid issues in Nigeria. This system is essentially a pack or stack of batteries.

So imagine with me that there is a farm of windmills installed in Kaduna and a modular energy storage system was integrated. From the morning till night, these windmills generate power that can be utilized readily, the excess power being stored for use. Activity decreases from day to night, indicating that there is an excess of power generated and can be stored in the modular energy system. The question is if this could solve the never-ending problem. Some would argue, but let me hear your suggestions instead of nonsensical insistence against a proposed progress.

If all the inventors and world changers in history listened to naysayers, we’d still be living in the Stone Age period. Nothing necessarily wrong with living the Stone Age, but compared to what liberties and luxuries we have now, I for one I’m glad they didn’t listen and pressed on. Aren’t you?

Urban Growth and Dichotomy

Lagos was where I spent the early years of my childhood. I remember it vividly as carefree. We lived in an apartment complex shared by four families. The four-duplex community was fenced by a rusty-colored fence with a rectangular peephole in front and a large, cemented courtyard to park cars or play after school. Life, I admit, was simpler then. Not much to do after school and homework except congregate in the courtyard and play ten-ten for hours or make mud-pies if the ground was damp. Or, my favorite pastime especially when “NEPA took light”, was listening to old folk stories told by parents or older kids in the neighborhood.

Ten years after I first left Nigeria for London, I returned home for a cousin’s wedding and I was completely disconcerted by how little things had changed. Yes, the roads were “smoother” especially in Victoria Island where my cousins lived, and there were skyscrapers and a mall (!), I couldn’t help but notice the odd sight of shiny mansions surrounded by decrepit buildings stacked on each other.

Even as I moved to the balcony on the fourth floor of my relative’s impressive home and looked over the red roofs of other homes, I could see those dilapidated buildings a mile away. Old buildings from my childhood still stood, the mansions sticking up obnoxiously. The incessant humming of generators brought me back to those years I played ten-ten with my cousins until the night pushed us inside.

I recently read an article that stated Nigeria is “a country… whose huge size is matched by its population’s taste for life lived large: enormous cars, flashy outfits.” The author didn’t mention the architectural wonders called estate homes being built all over Lagos, but the point is clear. Most of the rich Lagosians attempt to beautify their city and their lifestyles with four-story sprawling estates, fancy cars and exclusive properties on the edge of the state. The government is proud of new developments to make Lagos “Africa’s Big Apple” by building commercial waterfront properties (Figure 2) that boast of the bluest water and the tallest, most impressive buildings Africa has ever seen.

ekoatlantic

Figure 2: The conceptual “Eko Atlantic”, a glitzy city in Lagos

Rich Lagosians are promised their own waterfront, the fanciest yachts and the grandest opportunity to watch the sunrise and sunset from their twenty-first floor penthouse. It’s an ambitious but well-meaning intent to want to make Lagos a beautiful state that Nigerians can be proud of, but it’s ignoring the big white elephant in the room. Or rather, the herd of elephants stomping loud and harrumphing through their long trunks (Figure 3).

city

Figure 3: A day in Lagos traffic

The conceptual Eko Atlantic and other urban models like it are only attempts to fix Lagos’ big problems. In fact, the state website even affirms that its “population is growing ten times faster than New York and Los Angeles with grave implications for urban sustainability,” indicated by the unbearable and frustrating traffic issues. An average Lagosian sits in traffic for four hours before getting to his destination. The rich and highly influential have the option of helicopter pickups if pressed for time.

Imagine sitting in traffic every day, hearing those obnoxious helicopter engines hovering. Or getting up at an ungodly hour just to get to work “on time.” What is the definition of “on-time” in Lagos, if everyone has the same bright idea to leave early for work and still face the same problem?

The current infrastructure is inconsistent, with poorly-built roads and bridges breaking down constantly and construction seems never-ending.

Final Words

“I commend state governments that have built power plants and will encourage more states to build more and increase the national generation capacity. However, the problem with power supply in Nigeria is not just about power generation. Much BIGGER problems are transmission, INEFFICIENCY, very bad distribution networks, corruption, weak systems, lack of financial viability, etc.” – Unknown

Resources:

  1. http://urbandesignreview.org/post/27483280312/africas-urban-identity-crisis
  2. http://businessdayonline.com/2014/09/fitch-upgrades-lagos-to-aa-outlook-stable/#.VJHlWivF_OE
  3. http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/a-safer-waterfront-in-lagos-if-you-can-afford-it
  4. http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2014-01-27-lagos-a-city-where-you-keep-up-or-fall-behind/#.VJHl_SvF_OE

 

Reflection

Dear Heart,

How are you? I just thought I’d say hello since it’s been a while. Funny how years pass and things seem the same. The circumstance may be different but the hurt is still there, painful as it was years ago. How are things with you now, any different?

So I heard you asked for joy and peace in your present circumstance. Did it come? It did? How are you now? Life’s unpredictably predictable, isn’t it? People fail, you fail… daily. Expectations are hard to meet, faith is often out of reach. It’s hard to trust in other people when you constantly question your worth, your words. Don’t do that. Even now, you probably still feel like you’re twelve again; misunderstood, lost. Then you thought it was because you held it everything in, your words so pent-up and painful in your throat. Hurt was overwhelming, does it still hurt now years later? Where’s that thick skin you spoke about?

Relationships aren’t easy, are they? There’s a lot of giving, not a lot of getting… it’s the right way, I suppose, to be selfless and vulnerable for Christ. Giving, investing, sacrificing but in the end, it’s a proverbial slap in the face, a colossal punch in the gut. You stagger backwards, catch your balance, and keep trying… since that time you’ve held in a lot, haven’t you? There’s a suffocating fear and hurt that haunt you daily, doesn’t it? It thought letting go would be easier now?

On your own, you can’t. But with God, you can. You see, he’s never left you. Especially not now. Look, it’s okay to cry and scream, it’s okay. Please just don’t run away, don’t give up. It might hurt like a fresh cut on your finger. But even with all those scars, it’s fine. You’re fine.

You made it this far, so keep pressing on. Look back through all those years and see where you stand. Don’t cry over those years of self-hatred, pain and disappointments, or those that made you bleed. Think of the One who bled for you. His name is Jesus and he loves you more than his life. He gave it on the cross for you, many years ago. He knew you’d hurt like this, that you’d feel suffocated with the pain you feel from people’s misguided words and actions. It’s not about what they’ve done to you. It’s about what He did. He died so you will live. And guess what, He’s alive and his love endures forever. So it’s okay to rest in him. Psalm 91 says that you can take refuge in Him. Even if there are more scars and more hurt in your future, it’s okay.

Look outside yourself, keep on giving… even when it hurts. Even Jesus knew it would but he did it anyway, for you and me. He asks that we press on, even when disappointment holds our joy. Don’t let it. As Peter said, count it all joy.

I love you.

Self.

Death’s Visit

It hits you like a ton of bricks
Death sends shivers slithering down your spine
Sleep evades you, rest escapes you
Death, the visitor you wish would call first before coming
Give you time to prepare
Your heart that isn’t quite ready
To give up hold just yet
Everything screams you’re not ready
But this time it’s not for you
Heart, petrified in death’s wake, watches
Someone you love, care for, be no more
You wish for a redo, a second chance
Your broken heart can’t mend
When will this end?
Where is the Hope to stand on?
Where is the Peace to rely on?

Rainy Season

The pitter-patterring against my window pane.
The rush of wind and rain tapping at the glass.
My phone flashes severe rain, an ominous thunderstorm looming.
But I don’t worry or feel a foreboding
Instead, my heart rejoices.
Because there is something very comforting about rain.
Maybe it was my perilous days in boarding school.
Wishing, praying for rain every day
To save me the arduous trek to the campus well.
To fetch water for me and the pesky senior demanding water for her baths.
I remember the welcoming sounds to my feverish prayer.
The pitter patter of rain on the tin roof of the boarding house.
As I rouse from sleep, so do the other freshmen.
We smile with relief in the dark of the shadowed boarding house.
We all get our buckets full tonight.
Shifting from the bunk, we grab the empty buckets, having anticipated the rain all night.
Scurrying out the door barefoot, we place the buckets an inch from the shadowed roof and grin as the cool rain pelts our forearms.
The sound of tapping rain in our plastic and some tin buckets dulls as the water fills up.
We look up at each other, grinning from ear to ear.
We’d dance in the rain if we could but sleep is still heavy in our eyes.
Stifling yawns, we glance once at the buckets overflowing with water and then trudge back to our bunks.
Rain saved the day and we can finally sleep.
The roof is no longer tin, the windows not so thin but the sound of tumbling thunder stirs me awake.
In my queen-sized bed in a room in Texas, I lay wide awake.
Another day of heavy rain.
Flash-flood warnings ding on my phone, ominous thunderstorm looming till the early morning
And yet the pitter patter of rain still comforts me.
Rain, to me, is hope.
Of growth, of relief, of a better future.
Plants and parched soil rejoice and welcome the cool rain.
Just like I had, twenty years ago in a boarding school in Navytown, Lagos.

Strangled

Lord,
Here I am again
Brokenhearted and defeated
Lost and confused
I know I should trust in you
You will never leave me or forsake me
But why do I feel alone
With only fear and doubt for company?
Pain nips at my heels
Frustration knocks at my temples
Self-pity wraps me in a death grip
I’m suffocated
Strangled with despair
I’ve been here before
This feeling of loneliness
Of helplessness and confusion
I don’t see or hear you
The cries of self pity ring too loud
Piercing my eardrums
Till I hear nothing else
The fear and doubt drown out
The once-sweet comfort of your peace
That seems so far away
Your words once comforting
Are strange words now
Meant for someone else, not me
It seems
Impatience has gotten a hold on me
Dragging me by my hair from you
Patience had lost the tug
Victory belongs to someone else
It seems
My Ebenezers, those memories
Are just memories
Meant to bring hope
Yet they remind me of the times
I waited and waited
Just like this, I waited
My head pressed against the veil
My despair had put between me and you
Violently, I beat my chest for relief
To shake of the hold fear has gripped on my heart
Forgive me, Lord, if I have sinned
Because I know I have or else why
Why would I be here, waiting, crying
Suffocating and strangling
Struggling and waiting

My child
Just like the larvae fights in its cocoon
Struggling and strangling in its prison
Waiting and suffocating in its wait
One day
One day
The larvae will break the weakened bars of its shell
Bursting out, newly transformed
A butterfly
Strengthened and renewed
Vibrant and beautiful
You are that butterfly
Waiting, struggling to burst through
Like I said in my word
I will not leave or forsake you
Even when you are confused and lost
I’m here
Trust Me.

A Bike Ride with the Father

Imagine just for a moment… Picture on a sunny day, a father and his son stand in front of a trail. It’s full of winding bends, curves and sharp turns, bumps and dips. With an assured smile, the father places a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Ready?” He asks his son, his voice gentle and patient.

The son casts an anxious look at his father. “I don’t think so.” With trembling hand, he grips the handles of his bike and swallows against his dry throat.

“Don’t worry. You’re ready for this…” the father says with an unwavering smile. “And I’m here with you.”

Though nervous and petrified at the trail, the boy strengthens his shoulder at his father’s reassurance. He can trust in his father’s words because he’d been by his side through the other trails before. Mustering the courage he needed, the boy climbs onto his bike.

“Put your feet up,” his father instructs firmly. “Push off…”

Letting out one more breath, the boy lifts both feet and pushes off down the trail.

We’ve been there before. Our first bike, our first ride. Exhilarating and scary. Definitely worth it. We remember the rush of the cool wind on our faces, our racing heartbeat as we sped down the incline and swerved around the bends. We also remember falling over the first bump and tripping into the first dip. Painful and scary. Definitely worth it. Through it all, your father was there. To help you up, to encourage you with his presence.

That child is you and me. The father is God. The bike is your faith. The precarious trail, with its bumps and curves, is life.

Life is full of its trials, painful and scary at times, exhilarating and fun sometimes. Through it all, God the Father is by our side. He cheers us on, helping us up when we need it, encouraging us when we’re petrified to climb back on the bike and ride the trail.

He doesn’t stay for a minute and then leaves for a while because “we can handle it.”

Far from it. God stays by our side until the end of the trail, waiting to lift us into His arms with beaming pride. As his warmth and strength envelops you and I, he gushes “Well done, my child. Well done.”

My dear friends, please listen. Don’t give up and don’t lose heart. God is with you. Always.

Joshua 1:9

Grace and peace be with you.