Church on Sunday’s.
I was raised Catholic. Through the 3rd grade I went to Catholic school, and there was one time, and the only time, where I stood up at front to do a reading. It was the part in church, where you say something, and then you pause, then everyone else says ‘lord, hear our prayer’. I was beyond nervous, and my little keds felt like they were not enough to hold me up, my side pony tail was not enough to keep it real, I blew through the passage…the verse…I don’t even know what to call it. And I shouted into that little foam microphone, in my big-little voice, and when I finally came up for air, there was everyone, looking bewildered.
‘Lord hear our prayer’? They said it more like a question.
I looked at my teacher, and her perm. I looked at both. She looked down.
‘Uh-oh,’ I thought, ‘I’ve disappointed god.’
I didn’t like the way that school smelled, it’s tight hallways, and everyone wearing the same checkered skirt. I didn’t like how jenky the sports equiptment was, and how everything we did, seemed to be done in the basement.
I took up the clarinet, and that was a bad idea. I hated this instrument and the way you had to stuff this weird pipe cleaner thing down it to clean out the spit. I hated that it sounded like honking. Also, since we were pretty much poor, my clarinet came from a garage sale, the idea of which never stopped being gross. I wonder what would have happened to me if something would have handed me a drum set or a guitar…my guess is magic : ) I’ve always been more rock and roll. When I have a little girl, she is for sure getting a drum set. I’d like to buy every little girl in the world with spirit, a gold drum set.
My parents got called into a conference and my music teacher shared that it was probably best that I stop playing the clarinet. ‘that I showed little promise.’ Thank god that happened, they got me a mitt and some cleats that day, and a star was born. My athletic pursuits became my most important pursuits, and I’ll always be thankful to Dr. Glick…that man with thick glasses and a moustache for calling it like he saw it.
I somehow campaigned that summer that we should go to public school. I don’t remember this campaign being all that hard. So off we went to kirk road, where we read the book socks, were never in a basement, and had a gym with a rope I could climb to the ceiling. I wore jams, and nike high tops. I developed my first crush on boy with hair gel, Matt Opperman. Life was so good. (ps, damn, do I miss jams)
We continued to go to church, but only on holidays, I would try not to laugh at the part where you throw your hands up in the air and sing you raise me uppppppp (which I may be confusing with that Josh Groban song) but I don’t know anymore. At any rate, I remember thinking that all I was doing was repeating things back and nothing was really landing.
But. I had a lot of soul. Even as a little kid, people were always like ‘you’re an old soul, you’re an old soul.’ And I heard this a lot too… ‘man, you sure do have a lot of spirit.’
I watched the VHS sister act probably 400 times growing up. It was my absolute favorite movie. I would stand in front of the TV and clap my hands and sway at the gospel parts. I would shout hallelujah and mean it. I would pray that Whoopi Goldberg find her way, ‘you can do it whoopi…you can do it’ I’d whisper.
So is this what they mean by soul?
I continued to become obsessed with anything gospel. I found myself drawn to the weird shows at 3am when, all I can describe it is ‘black church’ aka nothing like I had ever seen, people running down the aisles, throwing their hands up in the air, some of them passing out (later came to find out, this is called catching the spirit), and always, some fiery (usually small) man in a purple suit shouting into a microphone, stomping one foot into the ground.
Oh yes. This was soul.
I imagined how wonderful it must be to be in that crowd with a big ass hat on, jumping up and down.
I was 12.
Little did I know then, that I am very powerful manifester, whatever I choose to create in this life, I will. It’s like I have the universe on speed dial. But if I’m not listening, I’m stuck and feeling all womp womp, woe is me. I am un-inspired. I am eating tator tots. I am a huge bore to be around. I am not attracting any dates, partnerships, or new friends.
And then I remember. Whatever I am searching for in this life, I must ask for it. I must believe it is mine to receive.
I spent about 8 Sunday’s in a church just like the one I described…in Kenya…in the slums. Of my one million favorite things about Kenya, I gotta say, this just may be the top. So much soul. So much fire. So much passion. So much worship.
How did I get there?
Every day, when I got home from work, I’d gather about 80 cents and walk down the street to get everything I needed for dinner. Like literally everything, a giant thing of kale, carrots, fruit, and peanuts for a snack. There were two ladies at the same stand everyday, but one of them was my favorite right away.
Hellooooooooo, she’d say, in her semi-toothless, gigantic smile.
Jambo! I’d reply back in my trying-it-on Swahili, big smile back, genuine connection.
We did this everyday. And we’d have these great conversations with each other, even though we had no idea what the other person was saying. I looked forward to seeing her everyday.
One of other favorite things about the beautiful people in Kenya is it’s not uncommon for someone to be primarily referred to as Mama so-in-so, it’s always the name of the first born child. So in this case, Mama Irenes first born, was a beautiful girl named Irene.
In Kenya, it’s also not uncommon for the first thing for people to ask you is ‘have you been saved’ meaning, have you found Jesus. At first, I would have these terrible flashbacks of being a bad Catholic, and that damn clarinet, but I learned a strategy which was, just say yes.
I believed in something higher, I knew that for sure. But she has no name.
Mama Irene played it cool, but after about 2 months, or some 60 visits later, she goes to me ‘have you been saved?’ I looked at her, reached for the bag of kale I had just purchased, and said this. ‘oh yes.’
Long story short, somehow we concocted a plan where she is inviting me to go to church with her. Which entailed going up to the matatu station (think bus station, just much different, more on this later), paying 10 cents, and riding on down to one of my very favorite places, a slum called Kangemi.
There is a whole lot of everything you could imagine in a slum, but, if you are not careful, you’ll miss the very best part, which is all the joy. It’s like NYC, there is always noise, and celebration, and kids running around, and futbol (soocer) matches on the dirt, and people selling everything you could possibly imagine, and coca cola in glass bottles for 10 cents, and music, and chickens running around, and families and more families, and lots of places to get your hair braided…I could keep going on and on.
(this little boy below, his name is Bright….Bright : )
But on Sundays, oh man, it’s like EVERYBODY is going to church! EVERYBODY is praying to the lord. EVERYBODY is singing aaaamen.
I would make my way to Mama Irene on Sundays. I fought the fear and uneasiness that I would get lost on the matatu. And I would take the 20 minute ride, then walk down this little alley and it was fill my ears and soul up with all the amazing sounds.
these are matatus…they could be their own post.
Now it gets a little weird, being the only, and I mean only white person in a church in the middle of the slums. First of all, generally speaking, everyone thinks you are a millionaire. That part used to really frustrate me, because of my own guilt, of feeling like I should be giving more…and feeling that I was always being looked at as though I could. You gotta get over that quick though, or you’ll just grow angry.
But they’d always make me sit up in the front row. Picture a room that holds about 100 people, all singing and clapping, and then me and mama Irene up there in the front row, sitting up there with the other ‘important’ people that had come through that day.
Once you get over the weirdness of it, it just gets really good.
(pics of some of the beautiful sunday school kiddo’s before the service)
The service was always in English AND Swahili, so there were TWO men, in purple (or other fancy suits) up front, preaching their damn hearts out, and the messages were always SO GOOD.
(the service always began with the kids gathering up front, before going to their own sunday school)
Unlike Catholic Church where it’s not really appropriate to shout things out, or dance, or randomly run across the room to hug your neighbor, here, it was totally cool.
I wasted no time getting right into it, it was like my soul was like oh yes, this is what you’ve been waiting for. I jumped, I prayed, I shouted, I never got the guts to run across the room, but damn it, I sure did feel like I could. The very first time I attended service, they gave me the microphone, I have NO IDEA what I said, other than I spoke from the heart, and friends, it was GOOD. I was met with amen after amen, and I felt so at home. I marveled at the beauty of all that soul in one damn room. All the singing that would bring me to tears again and again. A room that could not have been more than 800 feet, with 2-floor fans blasting, and 2 beautiful men sweating, like pouring sweat, from all that clapping and preaching.
Lord hear our prayer.
There is ALWAYS a part where you would turn to your neighbor during the service, and you would repeat the words the pastor said. It’d go something like this.
Neighbor! (always sounded like Neighbaah!) you look SO SMART (pretty much meaning, you look fly), Neighbaah! Do not let your fears overcome you! Neighbaaaaah when things happen in your life, ask yourself, what is the lesson? And Neighbaaaah, never dull your spirit!’
After church, I’d always be asked to go have coffee with the pastor. We’d laugh, and share stories, and I’d pick up framed pictures on his desk and he’d tell me about these special people in their life. I’d say see you next Sunday! And then, when it was my last Sunday, I didn’t know how to tell him, so I still said, See you next Sunday! I was so sad. (mama irene with 2-junior pastors)
After church, Mama Irene and I would walk back into the heart of the slums, into all the noise and chaos of a Sunday come alive, and one of the AYP boys would come by to walk me to where everyone else was, I’d throw on my futbol jersey and jeans that I had brought with me, and spend the rest of Sunday watching futbol, sitting on a patch of grass eating popsicles with the AYP teachers.
If there were best days of my whole life so far…these were some of them.
Lately, I’ve been thinking so much about that feeling…that, undescribable feeling of being free. Of choosing to be free.
I’ve been wondering, where is my courage.
I’ve been asking my courage, please come and show me, lets go on an adventure me and you (this is the convo I have with courage).
My life coaching sessions with the woman that makes me want to say ammmmmen! Mary Beth Larue have come to a close, and I’m not gonna lie, I’m thinking to myself, uh-oh. Can all those beautiful things that I uncovered and unearthed stay here with me, like palm-of-my-hands-with-me.
And the answer is, of course they can.
It’s just up to me to see them through. I’ve been given beautiful tools. Having a highly accountable convo once a week, sure does help. But so does believing in the moments.
The ones with soul.
Of trading in your clarinet.
Of making friends and truly loving a woman named Mama Irene, who took me to church, who shouted Amen with me and for me.
That fear of not knowing, how in the heck am I going to get to that next step. Will I ever feel as loved as I feel now. Will I?
This family I dream of….these babes….their dreams…where are they? Am I doing right by my vision.
My vision with soul.
If I am afraid, then I am immobile. I’m not gonna lie, these past few days I’ve felt afraid and alone. Only in moments, but those ‘oh shit’ moments, today, instead of writing or reading the NY times that I was so pumped to crack into, I drank coffee in my bed and watched 4 episodes of orange is the new black on my macbook air, right in a row.
At about 3pm I saw a post with a picture of this amazing retreat center in the French alps, and I felt refreshed and inspired.
Oh yes, I remembered, manifesting is a powerful thing. This picture called to me, and I have to remember that comparing my life to everyone elses, sure isn’t going to create the alignment to get me there. I will. I do.
And then I sent my friend a message about photography, which I keep ‘meaning’ to take my camera out of my camera case, and I don’t, even though it’s very much a part of my vision. And she sent me a message to just get on with it already. Just point and shoot.
Oh yeah, just begin…
And then I went to Mercy Cancer Center to teach my nightly class with the beautiful warriors whom I love dearly, of the family we have become, and of the big belly laughs we always have. Earlier today, I tried to sub out that class ‘I just wasn’t feeling it’ but when I couldn’t find a sub, within 30 seconds of rolling out my mat tonight, I remembered that so often…
It’s just about showing up.
Showing up to our lives. Listening for, and creating what supports and lights us up. To the little girl, in her jams and nikes that swayed and clapped in front of the TV to the gospel songs in Sister Act.
To the me now, who sits here, so deeply inspired, so very much on the cusp of absolutely everything, who is getting stuck in where to begin.
Soul, baby. Where is the soul.
It’s up to me, just as it’s up to you. Find what feeds you. Connect to what’s honest. Ask for help…but not too much help. Fortune favors the brave after all.
one of my very very favorite quotes. ‘we have been in love with god, for so very very long’ – unknown.