As I stepped into the rehearsal room, I was shocked to see only Sam, the choirmaster and a young lady whose face was strange.
I looked at my wristwatch and shook my head.
“Aren’t you having rehearsals today?” I asked, looking from one end of the room to the other.
It used to be the pastor’s office but was converted to a rehearsal room when a new administrative building was erected.
It was initially partitioned to house the offices of the pastor, his secretary and the assistant pastor. But when they moved, the partition was removed to enable the choir to use the room for rehearsals instead of the main auditorium.
“Well, we are but Jane is the only one singing.” He said, pointing at the lady.
“Oh! OK! That’s a beautiful one.” I moved close to where they sat.
“I’m just wondering if this solo thing would be as good as everyone singing, you know, having the tenor, alto and all that.” I said as I steadied my weight on one of the chairs in the room. I crossed my legs and looked from one person to the other.
“Well, Aunty, it’s already 5.30 pm. Choir rules say if a chorister comes any later than 5.15 pm, they automatically forfeit ministering on Sunday.” Sam explained.
“Oh! Wow! What a high level of discipline that is!” I exclaimed, nodding.
“Thank you, Aunty.” Sam responded.
I noticed that the lady was feeling left out of the conversation and was probably being careful not to interrupt rudely so I helped her.
“Hello, I’m Julie.” I said with a smile.
“Good evening, ma. My name is Jane.”
“Sweet name you have. You’re new here, right?”
“I thought as much. You’re welcome.” I said, giving her a side hug.
“Thank you, ma.”
I extended my phone to her. She dialed her number and saved it. I beeped her. She pointed at her phone and looked in my direction. I nodded.
“Welcome to Julie’s world. Feel free with me anytime.” She looked at Sam. He nodded and she smiled.
“I think I need to talk to you. I need your candid advice. These choir people are rebels!” Sam blurted out as I stood up to leave.
“Ahnahn! Choirmaster! Don’t say that about your members.” I cautioned, giving him a disapproving look.
“But it’s the truth now. And just like you said, I’m only trusting God that this song will come out fine tomorrow o. I have to be on the keyboard and Jane is a newbie. In fact, her probation ends today that’s why she can sing tomorrow. We have to sing tomorrow. I’ll show them that we can do without them.” He raved, beating the air.
“Hmm… I can feel your pain. But we’ll talk about this later. I have a meeting with someone. I told her I’d be here. She’s probably somewhere around already.” I said, peeping out of the window. I saw Sarah at a distance.
“She’s here. So, I’ll see you after service tomorrow.” I promised, winking at him.
I turned towards the door and began to make my way out of the room.
“Aunty Julie.” Sam called. I turned back.
“Thank you for always being there for the youth in this church. You really inspire us.”
I smiled faintly, waved at him and continued my exit from the room.
“The door opened and I came face to face with Sarah. She looked forlorn. Her eyes were blood red. I placed my hands on her shoulders.
“Aunty Julie, I’m tired.” I could barely hear what she said.
“Of what?” I asked, as I held her hand and led her out of the rehearsal room.
I spotted some chairs under a mango tree beside the main auditorium. It was obvious that some people had held a meeting there and didn’t return the chairs to where they ought to be.
I positioned two chairs to face each other and had her sit on one. I took my seat on the other. We had barely sat when she burst into tears.
“I want to get it right. I’m struggling. I’m lost. I always mess up. I always miss it. I’m just stupid.” She spat the words spontaneously, hitting her head with her hands and stamping her feet on the ground.
I covered her mouth with one hand and hugged her with the other. There were people around in the church premises who had come for the Sunday School Preparatory class and Children’s Teachers’ meeting and I didn’t want her to create a scene.
“Calm down, Sarah. Whatever it is, you’ll be alright. But I need you to pull yourself together and tell me all about it.” I whispered into her ears.
I prayed in tongues beneath my breath for a few minutes. The intensity of her wailing reduced as I did. When she finally got a hold of herself she removed my hand from her mouth.
“I want to love God. I don’t know how. I’m just confused. I’m up today and down tomorrow. I want to be consistent but I don’t know how to go about it.”
I took a deep breath and prayed for a few seconds again. I held her face in my hands.
“Do your really want to build a fantastic relationship with God?”
She looked at me straight in the eyes.
“Ah! Yes now, Aunty.” She replied with a frown.
“The Holy Spirit laid it upon my heart to tell you that you are the problem.”
Her face fell.
“You have to take responsibility. You need to be intentional about it. Don’t leave in God’s hands what you should do because if you do, it will remain undone.”
One could have heard a pin drop in the following minutes. She sighed.
“Thank you, Aunty. I really do understand what you have said. I’ll do the needful.”
I prayed with her and watched her join her colleagues at the rehearsals for the teens class which was to begin at 6.00 pm.
As I drove home, I thought about the many people God had used me to help in various ways- spiritually, financially, academically, name it! Reflecting, I was grateful to God for making me such a huge blessing to my world.
“Lord, thank You!” I said over and again.
As I looked around to check out who I needed to see after service on Sunday, I felt someone tug at my blouse. I looked around and saw Sam.
“Aunty Julie, you promised.” He grinned, flashing his white set of teeth at me.
I knew that if I didn’t attend to him immediately, I was going to break my promise. I forgot about any other person, locked his hands in mine and dragged him to my car. I pressed the remote control and we were soon settled in the front seats.
“Sam, Sam” I teased, “the new lady tried with the solo. But trust me, it would have been splufic if we had all the parts.” I commented.
He looked out of the window.
“I know Aunty, but what could I have done?”
I pushed him playfully and he moved his face in my direction. I could see the hurt in his eyes.
“Sam. I’m sorry if I spoke insensitively.”
“It’s alright, Aunty. If not for the choristers that have chosen to be sons of Belial, we won’t be having this conversation.”
“Hmm… It is well.” I muttered.
“That reminds me. Aunty Julie, do you ever have any worries or struggles?” He asked, supporting his chin with his right hand.
“I opened my mouth and stared at him for a moment. I was expecting him to talk about the choir not me.”
“Yes I do but I talk to God about them.”
“OK. I was just wondering if you talk to people about the things you go through the way people disturb you with their issues.” He said, shrugging his shoulders.
I pursed my lips and held the steering wheel.
“Well, I talk to God. I don’t like bothering people with my problems.”
“But you allow people bother you?” He gave me a querying look.
“Well, that’s what love does. You know, I’m doing all I do for the Lord and I don’t expect anything in return. I’m fulfilled being a blessing to others.”
I seemed to have words in season for the intelligent discussion Sam was trying to build.
“Yeah. So to your talk…” I was going to continue when I saw Sam’s hand on the door handle.
“Aunty Julie, I don’t want to burden you. I’ll talk to God about the choir. He’ll help me fix it.”
My stomach became bubbly and I couldn’t help but release the river of laughter that had welled up within. I shook my head and cast a glance at him.
“But Sam, you would do with some adult advice and experience here. Let’s talk about it.” I persuaded, but his mind was made up.
Before I could blink, he was already out of my car.
“Aunty, I’ll fix it.”He said, slamming the door.
I thought I was dreaming. I was so shocked by what had happened that I couldn’t wait to see anyone. As I turned on the ignition, my hands were shaking. I had to wait for some moments to get my act together before I could drive.
I got home and flung my bag and keys on my bed. My shoes found their way to one extreme of the room. I began to pace around the room.
“Lord, what did I say? What did I do? Is it a big deal to want to help people without demanding anything in return.”
All I heard was silence. I began to get impatient.
“Lord, speak to me. What is happening?” I hit my palm with my fist time and again. I was already sweating.
“Call Jane. I already sent her to you.” I heard in my spirit.
“I rebuke you Devil. Jane ke? What can the little girl say. I bind every spirit of confusion in this place today.”
“There you go again. I said, ‘Call Jane’.”
After struggling with the voice for almost half an hour, I picked up my phone and scrolled through my phonebook while I kept muttering the name ‘Jane’. The line rang thrice but there was no response. I hissed.
“Lord, I said it. The Devil is just…”
“Good afternoon, Aunty Julie.”
It was Jane’s voice. I didn’t know that the third series of ringing had not ended.
“Jane, how are you?”
“I’m doing very well, Aunty. Your call was the last I expected o. I guess you want to talk about the song.” She said, chuckling from the other end.
“No, dear. It was actually fine the way you sang it. I just called to…”
“Aunty, like you said yesterday, it’s sweeter to sing with all the parts. At least for the song I sang today, it would have been better if all the parts came in.” Jane admitted.
“You’re right, dear, but it was still fine though. At least, it was because other members of the choir were not around that it had to happen that way.”
“It’s true sha o.” Jane agreed.
“Thank you, ma.”
I didn’t know what else to say and was about to bid Jane goodbye when she spoke.
“Aunty, wait o. I have learnt today that in life, there are some songs that come out fine as solos, but we need a blend of soprano, alto, tenor and bass when singing some others.”
The words went straight through my marrow. I sensed that there was depth in what she said, but I didn’t understand.
“Hmm… Very true, dear. But I was blessed by the ministration. Keep the fire burning.”
“Thank you, ma. I’m grateful for your call.”
“It’s my pleasure. Enjoy your week.”
As I dropped the call, I hit the floor like Humpty Dumpty.
“Some songs are good as solos but some come out well when they are sung with a blend of all the parts.” I couldn’t remember the exact way Jane had put those words but I knew that was the summary. The words kept ringing in my head.
I tried to pray but as I opened my mouth, no words came. Every attempt to say ‘Father’ came with the reminder of the words Jane had said.
After a number of failed attempts to pray, I stood up from the floor and sat on the stool in front of my dressing mirror.
“Julie, it’s time to seek help. You’ve been a soloist for too long.” The voice reverberated in my spirit loudly and clearly. It was then I understood.
I had been struggling with something for some years and I had not told anybody about it. I was hoping I would beat it but all my efforts were futile.
The name that came up instantly on my mind was Mrs Phillips. I let out a long hiss and pulled my hair so hard.
Her name had been coming up in my heart for about three years but I couldn’t imagine myself talking to her.
She was just an ordinary cleaner in the church. Yes, she was a committed member, a fervent Christian at that. But why not my pastor’s wife? Why not my team head?
I closed my eyes and pulled my jaws together. I was going to shun the voice but thinking about all the encounters I had in that one day, I put on my shoes and picked up my car keys. I was at Mrs. Phillips’ place in an hour.
I knocked on her door and the first thing she said was “Praise the Lord!” I scratched my head. All these over spiritual people ehn. What kind of greeting was that?
“Julie, how are you?”
“I’m fine, ma. Good afternoon.” I greeted, bowing.
I looked around the house. It was quite better than what I imagined. I had only given her a lift and dropped her in front of the house once or twice but never stepped into the place.
The old shelve in the sitting room had books and magazines arranged according to their types and sizes.
The sitting room which could only accommodate a three-seater and two single sofas was properly arranged. Looking at the dining room.which was a part of the sitting room, everything was in its place.
She offered me a cup of water. The only reason I could drink it was because the glass was sparkling. I gulped down the contents of the cup and dropped it on the table.
I cleared my throat and took a deep breath.
“Ma, I need help, and badly at that.” I began to spill. “I’m afraid of getting married. You see, I’ve been praying but my fear won’t even let me keep any close relationship with any brother.”
I paused and wondered how I started telling the woman about myself without any preambles or introduction. It was as if I was under a spell. Everything was happening so fast. It was weird.
She seemed to know what I was thinking.
“Daughter, you’re in safe hands. Speak on.” She assured. At that point, my confidence level was boosted, so I continued.
“I cut them off as soon as I notice they’re saying anything that has to do with relationship or marriage.”
Mrs Phillips smiled and nodded as I spoke.
“Ma, I really want to get married but I don’t understand what is happening to me.” I was shaking my legs as I spoke.
“Julie, I’m grateful you finally came around. In fact, you would have put me in trouble with God.”
I jerked my head forward in surprise.
“He laid it upon my heart that you were going through something. But each time I saw you in church, you were so cheerful and lively. ”
“Ah! It’s all a scam, a mask.” I confessed, placing my hands on my head.
“Hmm… I would hear from one person about how you walked them through their valleys and another about how you helped them climb their mountains. So, I thought I was not hearing God well.”
“Ma, there was fire on the mountain all along,” I said, beating my thighs.
“I know I should have asked but I was confused. And you know you these big big people ehn… Hmm…”
“Ah! Ma, I just felt I could handle things on my own. I felt it was okay to love and help and not receive any of those from people. I thought I could fight on my own.”
“Julie, it’s okay not to expect anything from anyone, but it’s a different ballgame when you need to ask for help. If you could thrive all by yourself, it would have been just fine for God to place you in a desert.”
“Ma, that is true o.” I was biting my finger and shaking my head.
“Daughter, in life, there are rivers we can cross on our own but there are oceans we cannot cross alone. We need people, of course trusted ones, in such instances.”
“You’re right, ma.” The room that had been cool earlier suddenly became unbearably hot. I began to fan myself with my hands.
“I’ll tell you why God sent you to me. It’s because I went through exactly what you are going through when I was about your age.” She said, pointing at me.
My eyes widened. I stood up from the chair on which I sat and moved over to where she was sitting. I held her hands and squeezed them. She smiled.
“I had to cry to Him then and He gave me some keys that made me get out of the captivity of the fear of marriage faster than I could imagine.”
“Wow!”I exclaimed shaking the woman.
I sat with her for more than three hours, listening to her story with hot tears pouring out of my eyes like a stream. Our stories were dead similar. The fear of marriage was borne out of our parents’ failed marriages and other failed marriages we saw around us.
My ego popped up again as soon as she finished sharing her story with me.
“But why didn’t God tell me all of these by Himself?” I said, standing with arms akimbo.
Mrs Phillips stood up and held my face with both hands.
“Julie, you have the tendency to be self-sufficient. God wanted to teach you that you need people and above all, that you need Him.”
“But I always called on Him.” I argued.
“And He always answered you and told you what to do and who to talk to but you were stubborn. You didn’t want to be vulnerable. You never wanted to be seen as a weakling. You always wanted to have a reputation of being strong in the sight of men.”
I could feel the energy and authority in Mrs Phillips’ voice .
My eyes were flooded again. My heart was pierced because I knew that if I had obeyed when God had told me to talk Mrs Phillips earlier, I would have defeated that enemy called fear a long time before then. But I was at least grateful for mercy.
I did all that Mrs Phillips told me to and kept in touch with her as I journeyed through fighting the fear of marriage. She was such an indispensable support system. In six months, I was beaming with testimonies. I was no longer afraid of men. In fact, I had a number of them as good friends and confidants.
God gave me a man of my own too, one of the ones I had chased away earlier. He was the sweetest man I’d ever known all my life. With Him, my hopes of a blissful marriage skyrocketed. I was grateful for a second chance.
It was a hard lesson I had to learn, going solo when I could co-opt other people who could sing in parts and make the song fantastic.
Each time I look back, I’m grateful I had the chance to sing that song again, not as a soloist but with other parts that made it come out beautifully.
©Oluwatoosin Oladejo 2019