...and he encouraged himself in the Lord his God
The snow days always filled him with awe. He never understood how white flakes fell from the sky so quietly and so peacefully. Growing up in Port-Harcourt, it was always a slight variation of the same breeze that caressed your face- thick with humidity in the rainy season, dry and aggressive in the harmattan. But here in America, one needed two entirely different wardrobes for summer and winter. But today was not the day to think of Port-Harcourt and become homesick. It was a day to admire the snow and the maker of the snow! His love for the Maker of the Snow was long coming as he had grown up in a Christian household, although he was not quite sure when the Holy Ghost fire caught his mother, and she began to spend night after night in vigil.
She told him stories about how asked the Holy Spirit to wake her up 15 minutes before midnight, so she could begin her 12- 3am prayer session. Most times, she would sob gently, and other times, she let out a loud, painful, and desperate wail that made him wonder what cut her heart so deeply.
So, when last year, he read the book of Job in the Bible, he was convinced that the past few years in his mother’s life were her own Job days.
How else would he explain his father’s infidelity or his grandfather’s death?
She had narrated the stories of Daddy’s philandering ways with the detachment of someone defeated beyond restoration. In the dim light of the kerosene lantern, he could barely make out her expressions and relying on her voice did no good either. Her tone was flat and devoid of emotion.
‘That Victoria’, she said with a soft chuckle, ‘she has been writing your father love letters since she was 13 years old. And there was the Reverend Sister,' she continued. 'People always say they hang out together whenever he visits the village, and he sends her money. But I didn't want to jump to conclusions’. She let out a slightly scornful laugh, but it was not sufficient to decipher her emotions in that moment, or if there were any.
He had clenched his fist and tightened his jaw, and as he tried to control the flaming anger in his heart, beads of sweat were forming on his forehead.
‘So one day I bought a pack of condoms and wrapped it in his towel’, she said this as she broke the maggi cubes into the soup with her left hand, and stirred with her right. ‘I don’t want any disease. Your brothers and sister are still very young and I plan to live a long life for them’.
And then there was silence. It was a knowing silence- his mother had let out a secret from the deepest recesses of her heart, and as it seeped into his, the shroud of awe and admiration for his father fell with it.
That night, the last before he would board the 20 hour flight to start university in America, sleep eluded him. He could hear his parents’ soft voices as his mother helped his father pack. He had been promoted at work, and was due to resume at his Lagos office on Monday. His father would drop him off at the airport in Lagos, and then settle into his hotel where he stayed until he found suitable accommodation and the whole family moved down.
And so this night, as he sat on his bed in the narrow dorm room, his eyes glued to the pages of his Bible, and his heart bursting with a near veneration for this man Job. Yet, his mind was filled with images of his mother. He remembered her quiet yet towering faith that prayed him back to health when the worst asthma attacks hit. He remembered the glow in her eyes whenever they went to Church to worship. She always said Church brought her favorite things together- God and people.
At Bible study later that week, he shared the nuggets of wisdom from Job with his friends. No one understood his obsession with this man Job, so he spoke slowly, his eyes glistening with tears, his voice soft, a near whisper.
‘I cannot imagine God placing such a demand on me’ he had said, 'what would I do? I've lived such a sheltered life, I’m not sure I could take any trial from God’.
Three months down the line, the trials lined themselves at the door of his heart, threatening to pull down the strongholds of his faith.
Grandpa had died. The notifications about the unpaid fees were filling his inbox. And worse of all, Nana had left.
His mother said Grandpa had always been sickly. But he never imagined that the old man would not see 70. ‘Just 5 more years Lord’ he had prayed ‘I want my grandfather to enjoy some of my salary’. He recalled the joy in grandpa’s voice over the phone when he thanked him profusely for the 8,000 Naira last year. He thought too, about how in that moment, he made a solemn resolve to improve grandpa’s life conditions as much as he could. ‘I would build him a new house in the village. I would buy him provisions and give him a monthly allowance’, he had said under his breath, hiding his tears.
But that night, when he received news of his grandfather’s death, he wept again. Silently at first, until the groans overpowered him, and he let the floodgates loose.
He took the death in good faith, ‘God knows best’, he reminded himself. ‘The plans I had for him on earth are nothing compared to God’s eternal glory’. Some days, he held on to his words tightly, and on other days, his faith was merely hanging on very thin thread.
In those bleak days, when the darkness from Grandpa’s death eclipsed all his happiness, Nana encouraged him. She was his shoulder to lean on. She accepted him for all his excesses, his bursts of passion and his quirky sense of humor. She prayed with him and admonished him never to let the bullies get the better of him. Even in this moment, he was still amazed at how seamlessly she played the roles of mother, sister, and girlfriend.
But two months later, she left him. She said she felt like a distraction to his faith. ‘But where did you get that notion from?’ he asked his voice shaky, his heart pounding, refusing to accept the reality of that moment. And as thought to add salt to his injury, she said ‘Well, I see how much you love me, and I think perhaps, you've lost your focus on God, and have placed it on me’. Her response made no sense to him, but he wouldn't tell her that. It was her choice to make, and nothing could make her stay if she didn't want to. her stubbornness had intrigued him. But not that day. He was utterly confounded.
There was no basis for argument. He did love her, but there was no doubt in his mind that he loved God more. Although he gave in to his lusts a few times, he was careful never to cross the line. But this year was going to be different, he told Nana. He would control himself and not visit her. He would keep their conversations shorter, and more simple, so that they could both ‘focus more on God’.
Yet that was not enough for her. That Tuesday afternoon, after missing football practice because of a muscle pull, he listened intently and tried to make sense of everything she said to him.
‘You know, I just don’t want to become an obstacle to you and your faith. Right now, I’m not, but I think I could soon become one’. Her words kept ringing in his consciousness. He tried to understand, and deceived his brain into believing he did. So after he sent her a text telling her she was brave and courageous for putting God first and ending their relationship, he still struggled to sleep. And every single Skype notification lit the same fire as her notifications did. But the little flicker was soon snuffed out.
That evening, as he watched the snow fall, he thought about the dry, parched land his life had become. He shed tears every single week for the past two months, and could not share his pain with anyone. The loss and heartbreak had gave him a glimmer into the love of God for Him, and he finally understood the need to empty himself completely, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit. ‘Bring it on, Lord’, he murmured. ‘After all, you've taken the things I've held on to these past months’.
Image from here