My first born had become a teenager, and because of the different ages of our children back then, 14, 9, 6 and 1, two decades have included forgiving the parents whom I had misjudged for their parenting skills. I still continue to experience the vulnerability of not knowing what to expect and the surprises that come from learning that your own fresh and blood is uniquely created beyond the physical resemblance that might exist.
Turning 40 seemed to challenge me to live up to the lessons I had taught in my speaking and writing endeavors — “Live with a Purpose! Try to use that principle in all aspects of your life’s journey.” Although not an athlete by any stretch, I had been pulled to try the Race to Robie Creek soon after I arrived in Idaho in 1992. Participation in that race, four different times, settled that issue, and I retired the T-shirt I wore on my first race/walk and the identification number on it. I also felt called to scale Idaho’s highest mountain, Mt. Borah. I did that a year before turning 50.
I still marvel at my naivety in changing from a background in range management to becoming a professional speaker and writer, an undertaking that depends entirely on my third language, English, in addition to my well-known accent that I claim to have adopted from Wyoming — the place where I landed upon arriving from Kenya in February 1986.
The efforts, energy and creativity I devoted in that calling led to traveling to almost all states and speaking at international events in other countries and on several continents. The impact of the seminars I gave was recognized by Dirk Koetter, the 1997-1999 Boise State University football head coach, who had me speak to the team, starting a relationship with the program that continues to this day.
Seven years after I left corporate America to become a full-time speaker, I earned the coveted Certified Speaking Professional Award, the highest recognition given by the International Federation of Professional Speakers. There are still less than 1,200 speakers in the world who have achieved it. Then sales from writing increased — mailing books and inspirational posters to places I had never even heard of before then.
Involvement in my community, the Treasure Valley region of Idaho, brought a sense of fulfillment beyond tangible benefits. Serving as a board member for various humanitarian organizations, donating tuxedos for young men from low-income families to attend their proms, coaching youth soccer and sponsoring youth football teams all affirmed what my mother taught me, which I still believe: that serving others is one of the greatest blessings a human being can experience.
Now that 60 is within reach, I have had serious reflections on how one’s plans can be so interrupted by God that you are no longer in control. You set no goals and yet your calendar is full and 24 hours a day is not nearly enough to navigate the course God charts for you. In 2010, after visiting Kenya, my native country, I was thrown into a deep depression from witnessing the devastating impacts of AIDS/HIV, corruption and poverty greater than anything shown in documentaries I had seen.
I had the privilege to choose what to do, when and how in my 40s and early 50s. But the interruption I experienced meant that a girl or boy without hope of joining high school would give me sleepless nights, and trivialize my speaking or writing for a paycheck instead of doing something to prevent that girl from being forced in early marriage, prostitution or child labor.
That interruption introduced me to the brutal realities of poverty. Poor people die of a myriad treatable illnesses. The encounter with a student born with a treatable heart problem, but neglected due to poverty made, “All things are possible to him that believeth” a reality as that led to raising the funds in America and organize for that student, in Kenya, to travel to India for open-heart surgery. Shortly thereafter, he realized that his body was no longer blue, and he ran a distance of 10 feet for the first time in his life, at 17.
The thrill of getting standing ovations after speeches has been replaced by a different feeling — the one you experience when you see a child who had no hope smile, have three meals a day and graduate from high school or college. You are humbled by realizing that you played a small part in God’s plan of making the life of His child better.
And my teenagers back then, are now adults, living their own lives in their own unique ways.
Vincent Muli Kituku is an author and speaker for business organizations, schools and Christian groups. He is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, and Caring Hearts High School, a boarding school for vulnerable girls in Kenya. Contact him at (208) 376-8724 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.