She was the perfect soprano singer who often set her church ablaze for praise-worship with her extraordinary vocal range and ecstatic precision. What chiefly marked her out was her astounding ability to embody the most complex modern scores, and then project them with a white-hot cherubic intensity. With a recently commercial successful gospel music album nationwide, she was the muse of the choir. Her parish was indeed proud of her and regarded her as a gift from heaven. Her name was Ruth. Willowy, beautiful, and mesmerising, her church nicknamed her “Praise Mama.”
Kelvin loved her from the very first day he heard her sing. She was a perfect celluloid image, perched emerging from a lyrical mural every time she ministered. In his evaluation, God had done overtime on her, for she not only sang like a nightingale, but she was also exquisite to gaze on as she swayed in harmony to the rhythm of the band. Her face was a superb oval, with an acutely pointed chin. Her nose was small and aquiline, her eyelids were a beautiful perpetual limpid, and her lips, pillow-like, were seemingly luscious. For Kelvin, any Sunday service without her was incomplete.
Kelvin thought about her all the time, within and outside the church. Before long, the brother began to perceive that the Lord was leading him to propose marriage to Praise Mama. However, Brother Kelvin was not alone in his desire for the lead songstress of the church choir. About half a dozen other brothers also “sensed” that the Holy Spirit was leading them to propose marriage to Sister Ruth. Ruth never drove the brothers away. She just remained curiously naive, non-committal to their proposals, and very diplomatic. Her usual response to marriage proposals was:
“Give me time to seek the Lord’s face concerning your proposal.”
When Kelvin heard about the number of suitors that were competing with him to win his aspired bride, he decided to walk the path of honour that would prove to Praise Mama that he meant business and that he was a man of integrity. The church regulation provided that any brother who had any intentions of proposing marriage to a single woman in the church would have to go carry along the chaplain of the church. The chaplain would after that invite the sister in issue and intimate her of the proposal, enquiring from her about what she thought of the brother who was seeking her hand in marriage. Usually, the chaplain would also give the sister time to pray and seek the Lord’s direction. It was also the minister’s duty to pray along with the prospective couple, requesting God to direct the desires of their heart. Eventually, should the woman’s answer to the marriage proposal be in the affirmative, she would then inform the church and a formal courtship recognised by the church would commence with a wedding date reached between the families of the intending couple and the church. The church would arrange marriage counselling sessions between the formal engagement and the wedding date. However, this church guideline was unpopular to the new generation of the church because they felt the methodology was too archaic. Young people in the church preferred to meet and interact with each other without going through the bonds of formalities and the presence of a “menacing” third party in the person of the chaplain.
Kelvin reasoned that involving the chaplain in his pursuit of Praise Mama would lend credence to his quest. The chaplain was a tall greying man in his early sixties who was often clad in a white clerical collar peeping out of the collars of his black shirt. Rev. Hezekiah kept an afro grey speckled hair. His spectacles were so thick that his iris seemed to dilate beneath it. His office was a dingy, stuffy large cubicle cluttered by different theological books. Kelvin wondered how the Reverend could work in such an environment that had been overtaken by books. However, as he sat opposite the clergyman, he shyly began to unveil the purpose of his visit, after the exchange of pleasantries. Rev. Hezekiah listened to the young man with rapt attention and betrayed no emotion, nodding here and there as if in unison with the soul of the young man who was pouring out his heart to him.
“Have you spoken to her on this issue?” the reverend gentleman asked him after Kelvin had finished speaking.
“Not yet, Rev. I want to follow due process in making my proposition. Only then will she take me seriously,” Kelvin explained.
“I am going to make an exception in your case. I permit you to approach her. Tell her how much you feel about her and let me know her reaction,” Rev. Hezekiah encouraged.
“Really sir?” Kelvin asked, a bit disappointed for he felt that the presence of the clergyman speaking for him would soften up Ruth about his request.
“Yes, Kelvin, talk to her. In the first place, are you close to her? Is she your friend?” he asked.
“Not really, Reverend. I commended her one time after service … praised her for her singing that day,” he muttered rather defensively.
“Find time and relate with her. Once she begins to get used to you, you can then propose marriage to her. Get back to me when you’ve reached that stage,” Rev. Hezekiah recommended.
Kelvin spent five months trying to woo Ruth. Initially, he did not make much headway. The church was an open arena, and she was always sandwiched by her choir members or by one attention-seeking brother or the other. But when he finally got her to notice him and when she obliged him her telephone number, he began to call her regularly. From regular chats, Kelvin type romantic poems to Ruth. A couple of months later, and he was buying her expensive gifts, worth half of his monthly salary at the bank where he worked as a teller. He requested for dates with her, but she was always providing one reasonable excuse after the other, to avoid sitting out with him.
Finally, by the fifth month of their platonic friendship, Ruth acceded to going out on a date with him one Saturday evening. Kelvin was dressed in a black dinner tuxedo suit with a matching bowtie while Ruth turned up in a white casual dress and a ponytail. Their rendezvous was an excellent restaurant in the heart of the city. There, well-mannered stewards in grey cheque shirts beneath stripped aprons served them three-course continental menus. When the couple was done with the cuisine, a love-struck Kelvin involuntarily began to profess his intentions for Praise Mama. He did not tell the songstress how much he loved her for he was bereft of his poetry as she sat opposite him like a goddess, boldly scrutinising his face. He rather employed scriptures and the Bible in trying to convince Ruth that he was her husband chosen of the Lord. After all his “sermons,” she pointedly asked him:
“What do you do for a living?”
He was embarrassed at her question. After all his calls and emails to her, she was supposed to know by now that he was a banker. He had talked about the workplace and his life so often with her over the phone that he thought that she ought to know him very well by now.
“I’ve told you countless times that I’m a banker,” he replied in a hurt tone.
“Sorry about that,” she replied but her tone was unapologetic, “I’ve always dreamed of marrying a man who can play at least three musical instruments. In fact, I want my husband to be my producer. Can you play any musical instrument, Kelvin?”
“Emm … no … emm … but I could learn one. I’ve always wanted to play the keyboard,” he stuttered.
He wanted to ask her if that was all she wanted from him, but he found himself speechless, a trail of anger and resentment entwined his deflating spirits. However, he suddenly began to nurture the thoughts of enrolling in a musical school for her sake.
“Why can’t you play any musical instruments? That’s not smart you know,” she scorned.
“Well, I’ll learn how to play one soon. So how about us getting married?” he persisted.
“Just like that? How can you propose marriage to me on our first date?” she queried.
“I told you that I’ve prayed over this matter and the Lord has confirmed that you’re my wife,” he insisted.
“I’m sorry, I’m not just ready to get married now,” she said without flinching, “and I think it’s time I should be home.”
Kelvin thought he was going to have indigestion. He suddenly wished he had never opened up to her. For him, he knew that the date had ended in a disaster.
Deflected and depressed, Kelvin rushed to see Rev. Hezekiah the following day.
“Give her time. On your part, you need to seek the Lord’s face again. If she’s your wife, she will yield to you in due season,” Rev. Hezekiah counseled.
Four months after the first rejection of his marriage proposal, Kelvin approached Ruth again, with the same proposition. Again, she politely turned him down, and yet again, he was in Rev. Hezekiah’s
office to lament his plight.
“Can you recognise the voice of God? Because, son, if you don’t know His voice, you will regard every prompting and urging as His’. Get back to your knees and ask the Lord if Sister Ruth is indeed your wife. If God says she is your own, go and propose to her again for the third time …” Rev. Hezekiah advised.
“Sssh, I am not done,” the reverend gentleman interjected, “this time if she rejects you, close this matter for the rest of your life and begin to ask the Lord for a fresh leading,” the Reverend instructed.
“I’m getting embarrassed by her attitude, Rev. I think this sister is very self-centred,” Kelvin grumbled.
“Really? So why don’t you look elsewhere? She’s not the only sister in this church,” Rev. Hezekiah retorted with a stifled smile, “in fact, there’s this graceful sister who serves the church in the sanitation department. Her name is Hannah. If I were you, I should be going for a sister like that.”
Kelvin’s mind began to rummage the sanitation department of the church in a bid to place who Sister Hannah was. After about a minute and a few questions here and there, Kelvin was able to pinpoint Sister Hannah. In his assessment, she was a bland, unappealing and obscure sister who could not be compared to Ruth regarding notoriety in the church. She was just “there”, and Kelvin thought that she squeaked like a mouse caught in a trap whenever she spoke.
“Aaah! Sir, is there anything appealing about that sister?” he complained. The words came too fast for he had forgotten that he was speaking to his chaplain. Rev. Hezekiah looked at him with an eye that bordered between reprimand and pity.
“My son, the Bible states in John 7: 24, that we should not judge by appearances, but we should judge with right judgment,” the clergyman said.
“But sir, God tells me that Ruth is my wife. I see her in my dreams all the time. I see her in a bridal gown as I lead her down the church aisle in a dance on our wedding day,” Kelvin insisted.
“Your third proposal to Ruth should be your final,” the clergyman concluded.
When Kelvin raised the issue of marriage to Ruth for the third time, the latter maintained her trenchant stance in rejecting his offer. Kelvin had accosted her after a midweek service and implored her to hear him out.
“Brother Kelvin, I don’t know why you’re so persistent? I’ve told you that I am not your wife, but you still insist on pestering me and making my life uncomfortable in this church,” she gritted.
“I will tell you what Jesus asked Paul on the way to Damascus, ‘it’s hard for you to kick against the pricks.’ You belong to me,” Kelvin whispered huskily.
“God is not an author of confusion. For your information, I’m already engaged to someone in this church,” she blurted.
“Engaged?” Kelvin asked in astonishment, his voice quivered, and his legs trembled.
“Yes, Brother Kelvin. Please stay away from me to avoid a confrontation with my fiancé,” she warned him before rudely walking out of his presence.
Kelvin was transfixed as he watched her figure recede from his sight into the young night. Had he lost Mama Praise forever?
The following evening, Kelvin was in Rev. Hezekiah’s office. He narrated all that Ruth had told him before breaking into tears. The chaplain came around his side and held the distressed young man around his shoulders, as he consoled him. Rev. Hezekiah quoted Jeremiah 29: 1 Psalm 34:18, and Romans 8:28, from the New International Version of the Bible, respectively as follows:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
“It’s time to bring your love for Ruth to a closure. She’s telling you the truth. She’s engaged to an engineer with an oil company in this church. I registered their engagement in the church register. They are starting their marriage counselling next month. She got engaged to him a few weeks after her rejection of your second proposal. I didn’t want to tell you about it because you were so insistent that you heard from God. I wanted you to find out things for yourself,” Rev. Hezekiah explained to the sobbing young man.
“Does the engineer play any musical instruments?” Kelvin asked tearfully.
“None that I know of. Why do you ask?” Rev. Hezekiah asked curiously.
“She told me that she wanted a husband who played at least three musical instruments,” Kelvin said, “and I was even ready to learn how to play keyboards because of her.”
“Mmmh, so have you learned how to play the keyboard?”
“No, sir. I never found the time to. Bank work takes all my time,” he lamented.
“Son, she’s not yours. God has a better plan for you. Trust God,” the clergyman persuaded.
Eight months later, Ruth was married to Engineer Benson in one of the grandest weddings the church had ever witnessed. Kelvin was absent, and so were many other brothers who had failed in their pursuit of Mama Praise. Ruth sang on her wedding day, while her new husband wept in love and admiration for her.
With Ruth out of his reach, Kelvin reluctantly began to show interest in Hannah. Their relationship did not commence with the whirlwind kind of romance, that jolted Kelvin’s heartbeats, but with each passing day of their courtship, Kelvin saw a virtue and inner beauty that he had never reckoned while wooing Ruth. Hannah was a beautiful girl, but she was like an angel working behind the scenes to make the church more comfortable for all. She had been relegated by many because of the wrong perception that spiritual maturity was evidenced by holding a microphone in church and being seen on the pulpit.
After eight months of courtship, Kelvin got married to Hannah in a quiet wedding ceremony that had only about a quarter of Ruth and Benson’s wedding guests. Hannah was godly in every sense of the Word, and she respected Kelvin and submitted to him. Five years into their marriage, with two children to cater for, Kelvin lost his job with the bank. Hannah, his wife, was there for him like a rock. She never disrespected him nor took advantage of him for the three years she had to run their home from her meagre income. Hannah ensured that their home was the home of the virtuous woman described in the Bible in Proverbs 31. Kelvin could not be more thankful to God for her. When God turned around the captivity of Kelvin’s joblessness, He gave Kelvin a new job with the same oil company that Benson worked. It was when Kelvin resumed work with his new employers that Kelvin got to know that Benson was only contract staff, whereas Kelvin was being employed in his new role as permanent staff. His earnings were four times larger than that of the man he so envied a couple of years ago.
The very year of Kelvin’s employment with the oil company was the final year of Benson’s contract of employment with the same organisation. Unfortunately, Praise Mama had lived her marriage on a high spending note based on how Benson had presented his affluence to her during their courtship. When their children were born, she had insisted on the most expensive schools for them. The Bensons were living in an apartment in a high brow neighbourhood of the city where they paid four million nairas a year as house rent when they had not built their house. On Praise Mama’s insistence, the family went abroad for holidays twice a year. After ten years with the oil company, Benson had no investment to show for it, save for living a high brow life. When Benson’s contract was discharged with the oil company, Ruth metamorphosed to a difficult wife who nagged her husband over everything and often threatened to leave the marriage. In the end, she did impliedly leave the marriage when she insisted on going abroad to “reorganise her life and her musical career.” Benson ended up with a mild stroke because he was heartbroken.
On their ninth marriage anniversary, Kelvin and his wife stood before the church congregation with Rev. Hezekiah, who was retiring from the pulpit that year. When Kelvin was given the microphone to speak, he was emotional and tearful.
“My wife was not even a choice when I was searching for a spouse. However, God knows where every road is leading. He can see around the corner. A road may look great to us, but it is fraught with danger, heartache, and trouble ahead. Faith is trusting God when you don’t understand why your prayers are not answered. Your desires on the surface may look perfect, and you can’t see any reason it shouldn’t work out, but God can see a thousand things that we cannot see. Believe me, brethren; God has your best interests at heart when a door closes before you. You don’t know what God’s saving you from. If you do not seem to find a way, rather than get discouraged, take time out to pray again and listen to the voice of the Spirit of God, to be sure that you are not leading yourself. The only reason the door closed ahead of you is that God has something better in store for you. My wife is a gift from God, and I bless the name of the Lord for every girl that rejected me when I pursued them for marriage. My wife is an oasis in the desert … my wife … my wife …. my wife ….”
Rev. Hezekiah could not help but raise his hands and worship God.
“Kelvin has preached my sermon for today,” Rev. Hezekiah announced, “God can never mislead you if only you can learn to hear His voice.”