Try to Remember

 

The bumper sticker in front of Tom read, “Try to remember what you wanted to be.” Tom thought for a moment and then the light changed. He remembered that he didn’t want to be late for his date with Sherry. Pulling up to the next light Tom remembered that he wanted to be a missionary and a band conductor and a secret agent and a shortstop and an army guy and someone other-worldly, like a saint or an astrophysicist. At the next light he coughed as he said, “I never thought I’d end up as a welder.” 

Tom knocked and Sherry came to the door. “Dinner’s almost ready. C’mon in.”

“Wow what a day. How about that heat? I had to keep lifting my helmet to wipe the sweat off my face. I came home drenched.”

“You did take a shower, didn’t you?” Sherry joked.

“Yes, my dear. I see you did, too.”

“Yeah. I had the same problem you did. Welding that half-inch plate, I couldn’t see for all the sweat burning my eyes.”

“Maybe we should be welders in Alaska.”

“Yeah, and then could eat fresh wild-caught salmon and caribou.”

“You know the way to a man’s heart, don’t you kiddo?”

“As long as we are on the same path, I’ll know the way to your heart.” Sherry smiled.

Tom and Sherry sat down, gave thanks, and started eating the chicken tacos Sherry had prepared.

“I saw a bumper sticker on my way over here.”

“What did it say?”

“‘Try to remember what you wanted to be.’”

“I remember wanting to be Weather Woman on TV. I wanted to tell everyone what the weather would be while wearing nice clothes. I was ready. All my clothes were solids and not patterns.”

“You can tell me the weather forecast anytime you want Weather Woman. I hope I’m on your radar screen.”

“Yeah, you’re a blip.”

“Ahem. I remember wanting to be more than a blip. I wanted to save the world from the bad guys and run fast like Flash and play baseball like Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Look at us now. We are both welders. You know, I read in Welder’s Weekly that…”

“Welder’s Weekly?” Sherry looked puzzled.

“Yeah, I am the only subscriber. Anyway, the Bead Column said that welders should date welders. “

“And why is that?”

“They’ll carry a torch for you.”

“I see why you are the only subscriber.”

“And there were bumper stickers for sale, too: “Be the Bead” and “If the Weld Smells Like Pork You’re on Fire.”

Sherry choked on her food. “That last one is hilarious.”

Sherry cleared her throat and said. “Well, you had me at first arc. C’mon. Help clean up. We have work to do.”

After putting the dishes in the sink, Tom and Sherry went to the garage. They set up the gas welders and the welding rods. They worked together creating a sculpture for a nearby church garden.

After a couple of hours, they came in for dessert – Key Lime pie. It was then that Tom gave Sherry the ring and said, “many are called, one is chosen.”

 

Later that night, while sitting together on the front porch, Sherry asked Tom a question.

“Tom, have you ever wondered why you and I were born in this time and place?

“I usually ask that in the middle of laying a bead and the temperature is ninety-degrees. But, what are you thinking?

“When I think of the millennia of time which has passed and the millions of people who have gone on before, I think we were born here and now to be a who we are-man and wife-to continue what God has begun, to continue creation.”

“Well, when you put it like that, welding makes sense in the cosmos. Joining two metals to become one creates something greater than the individual pieces.”

“You’re a philosopher now, Tom?”

“A stitch-er of thoughts, more likely. When I was on the road in New York and Indiana and Louisiana MIG welding together these towering static mixers I told you about I had time to think. There inside a hollow eighteen-foot diameter shell of twelve-gauge steel I realized that I am here for a purpose greater than me and greater than me welding together something that will benefit somebody today but will fall out of use some day. I saw that I am. Why that happened right then, I don’t know. But after what you just said, we make sense together. I better get home. I am exhausted.” 

Sherry looked at the ring on her finger and then looked over at Tom. Tom reached over and gave Sherry a kiss and asked, “Do you know how diamonds are created?”

“No, Tell me.”

Diamonds are made from the residual carbon of the earth’s first land plants. The carbon is exposed to extremely high temperature and pressure in the earth’s mantle. They are pushed up to the earth’s surface by volcanic activity.”

“Did you read this in Welder’s Weekly?”

“No. I read it in A Brief History of Welding.” Tom grinned like Alice’s Cheshire cat.

“So, to reach our Diamond Wedding Anniversary we will be subjected to high temperature and high pressure?”

“There’s only one way to find out and we’re going to go through it together.”

Tom gave Sherry another kiss and said, “See you in the morning. Don’t forget to wear cotton. It’ll be another hot day. Oh, I just thought of another bumper sticker: “Welders keep you in stitches.”

“You are exhausted. Good night.”

 

A year later, Tom and Sherry began marriage counseling with pastor Dave. The wedding date had been set.

During the first session with Pastor Dave, he asked them, “How did you two meet each other?”

Tom responded. “We met at Marsh Technology Center. We were both in a welding class. She flipped my lid.

Dave laughed. Now you have my interest. Explain.

“Yep. It was the first time I put on a welding helmet and I was trying to adjust the tension. Sherry flipped my helmet up and showed me how to adjust it. The tension has to be just right. When you are ready to weld you need to flip the helmet down to cover your eyes. Your hands are full so you flip the helmet down with a jerk of your head.” Tom showed Dave “the flip.”

During that first session pastor Dave asked about their family back grounds. As the session was wrapping up, Dave said, “Everyone who gets married comes to marriage with a lot of baggage. Each of you can share the load of the other but don’t think that the other will somehow resolves whatever issues you brought to the marriage. You own those issues like you own your credit report. It is yours to correct. Your spouse is there to support you but is not there to fix you.”

The second session was about finances. “You each come to your marriage with a certain way of dealing with money. Marriages break apart over how finances are handled. Marriage is a coming together-an intimacy-of finances where you must hold each other accountable. Set up a budget spreadsheet. Set up an accounting of debits and credits using available software. Set up financial goals for a home, for children, for retirement and most importantly-for giving. Remember. You cannot give what you do not have.

Look at each other’s credit report now before you get married. Look and see what each of you has done with their money. Love covers a multitude of sins, but a pile debt sticks out on credit reports. Stay away from consumer debt. It will eat you alive. Become financially savvy.”

During the third session Pastor Dave talked about in-laws–keeping one’s marriage separate, away from meddlesome in-laws. He said that becoming one takes focus. What Tom remembered was “Location, location, location.” What Sherry remembered was the ache in the pit of her stomach.

The fourth session: “long live intimacy.”

“Intimacy is the every-aspect-relationship that you have with your spouse. You have to work this out together day by day, minute by minute. And, don’t compare. Don’t ever read a couple or watch a TV show and say to your spouse, I wish we were like that couple.

Your marriage will face a test of wills. Your goal is to become one. That doesn’t mean the one is dissolved into the other. It means that the understanding, forgiveness and love you each bring to the other is forged-welded, is the better word for you two-to become one stronger whole.

Intimacy is broken when there is no forgiveness. Do not got to bed angry. A root of bitterness likes to grow in that kind of harsh unyielding soil. Do not apologize and say, “I’m sorry. I said it because of what you said.” You might get slapped. Holding grudges will quickly destroy your marriage. If you are angry, take some time to cool off and think about why you are angry. Are you angry because of what happened reminded you of something that happened earlier in your life that your spouse doesn’t know about and had no hand in? Beware. Unresolved anger is self-justifying as means of protection. Unresolved anger places others into exile. True forgiveness removes people from exile and embraces them. You may feel strongly about some wrong done to you. If so, tell your spouse that you are angry and why you are angry. Tell your spouse that you need some time to process your anger and that you do not want to reman angry with him or her. See what happens next. And, deal with your past baggage now so that the present and future are given to your spouse.

Intimacy is not sitting in front of a TV with your spouse. As it says, “make the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Find a church community which supports this truth. I recommend staying away from TV. Don’t make TV a third person in your marriage”

Tom interjected. “Neither of us own a TV and we don’t plan on having one after we are married. I think of the irony that so many people will go buy organic foods or be vegetarian or try to eat healthy and workout and yet they fill their minds with all kinds of trash from the TV. There is too much in this world to explore and to wonder about for us to sit in front of a box.”

“Good.” Pastor Dave replied. “Now let’s talk about sex.”

Both Tom and Sherry looked at each other and then rolled their eyes up to look at the ceiling.

“My wife Karen will talk to you, Sherry, and I will talk to you, Tom, alone. Let’s go.

Sherry met with Karen. Karen talked about sexual intimacy with a man and how to prolong a man’s excitement.

Pastor Dave talked to Tom. He began by drawing a picture of a vagina and then asking Tom to draw in where the clitoris was. Tom had no idea so, Dave drew it in and circled it. Dave then talked about how women are in no hurry to achieve orgasm but men are. He said that the two becoming one must find a happy oneness.

During the fifth session Pastor Dave talked about having a faith community that will support your marriage. He said to find a church where truth and beauty are combined into the daily life of the church. A church which is all preaching and teaching is missing the inexplicable and the transcendent. Find a church, he said, that loves mystery and encourages adventures of discovery. Find a church where art, music and drama play major roles in worship and teaching and are not considered asides to some pulpit ministry.

Pastor Dave’s sixth session: “When children come, life is turned upside down. Be prepared. Your marriage will be put to the test because everything you are came about during childhood. Having children is like attending a therapy session: the past is brought up and you are forced to confront it as little Tommy Jr. decides he will not obey, no way and no how. Rearing children requires patience you don’t think you’ll ever have enough of. Rearing children requires discipline for yourself and for your children, so know what and how that looks like. Listen to other parents. Learn to set and enforce proper boundaries for your children. Children feel secure when they bump up against sure and solid.

Their wedding day was a month away when Tom and Sherry came to Pastor Dave’s seventh and final marriage counseling session. Tom wondered why he was sweating sitting in Pastor Dave’s air-conditioned office. Pastor Dave surprised the couple by showing them the Princess Bride wedding scene. Tom was no longer sweating. Instead, his Cheshire cat grin reappeared.

“Alright then. You’ll need a sense of humor for your marriage to survive all the stuff thrown at it. Now, I want you two to focus on what I am about to say: Marriage is a rose that enfolds the mystery of truth and goodness and being within itself and then opens for the world to behold its beauty. A Kingdom marriage means taking vows-a sincere and binding promise made with full understanding. Together you will help each other to flourish. You will witness and worship together. Together you promote the glory of God. Together you will discover and uncover the mysteries of the universe.

And you should know that God created the gender identities of male and female not just for procreation of the human race. I believe that God’s creation of two distinct gender identities, both rooted and fixed in sexed bodies, was also for the creation of mystery.  You see, men and women who come into a marriage relationship begin a journey of discovery. Men discover and grow into their maleness and women discover and grow into their femaleness. Within the give and take of a marriage relationship the mystery of your gender identity and the other’s gender identity is explained and affirmed. The same thing also happens for a single person in a healthy Christian community. God created mystery for us to discover Him and each other and His whole creation over a course of a lifetime. We should never be bored.

God, in His infinite-personal love, created mystery and romance. Look at how much we do not know about the universe. Our God is surrounded in mystery.  Clouds and thick darkness surround him. God does not do boring, to put it another way. Reason alone cannot tell you all you need to know. Emotions and your senses cannot tell you all you need to know. No, we discover what we do not know when we are in relationship with Him and with others. Your marriage, the dancing embrace of male and female, will venture off into God’s uncharted universe to go where no man or woman has gone before.

“Bead me up,” Tom replied.

Pastor Dave looked over at Sherry. “Do you really want to marry this corny guy.”

Sherry looked over at Tom who was grinning his cat grin, “Well, he does keep me in stitches. That’s his welding joke.”

“You two were made for each other. Now for the welding. I mean the wedding.” Pastor Dave prayed a blessing on the couple and then dismissed them after discussing the wedding details.

 

At the wedding Pastor Dave again prayed a blessing on the couple. As Tom and Sherry drove away from the church Tom noticed the same bumper sticker that he saw before: “Try to remember what you wanted to be.”

“I remember what I wanted to be. It is what I am with you.” Tom leaned over and kissed Sherry.

Their car’s bumper sticker read: “With This Ring, I Thee Weld.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Gender In, Gender Out?

From the perspective of having worked with a para-church group that has ministered to free people from the cycle of homosexuality, I would like to address a concern of mine…

Recently I saw a huge sign outside a mega-church that offered a “Biblical” approach to gender. The wording was directed at teenagers. Though seemingly innocuous this is a type of inferred legalism.

When a Church or seminar group puts the word “Biblical” in front of its messaging it is clearly inferring that this is the domain of Christians, that this is what a Christian in this subset must do or be.  GIGO-300x249

But desired male and female “characteristics” or conformism should never be taught as gilded pages of Scripture lifted out and fashioned into tablets of “Biblical” mandates. One may say that these approaches are just “guidelines” but the word “Biblical” in front of something conveys the idea of de facto Sola Scriptura truth.

As mentioned, in the past I have been around and served in a para-church ministry based on what was termed “gender symbolism issues” (a cautious reference to Carl Jung). The speaker’s main thrust was to employ an admixture of psychology terms, quotes of the Inklings and of Scripture with the application of soul-healing prayer. It all sounded good to me at the time.

Within this context seminar leaders and counselors urged attendees to pray and ask God for the “True Masculine” and the “True Feminine.” But, these prayers, of course, will not be answered because there is no such thing. The best a man or woman can ever become is being Spirit-filled. It was out this time that I came to realize how insidious this kind of psycho-spirituality was.

It is not hard to understand the Christian Church trying to stabilize the culture surrounding it. But, in this case, it is doing so by adding unnecessary “traditions” onto the message of the Gospel. By placing added strictures and burdens regarding the masculine and the feminine, the Christian Church removes itself from the Gospel and becomes, in a sense, the fashion police.

Recall the early Christian Churches of Jerusalem and Galatia which demanded that new Christians follow the strict tradition “soaked” Law along with the teachings of Jesus? Today’s church in similar manner, as I see it, is seeking to propagate men and women of the “Biblically” masculine or feminine tradition. It would appear that the Christian church is in the process of “canonizing” romantic notions of what they consider to be masculine and feminine qualities.

As a former student of Moody Bible Institute and over the course of a lifetime having read through the Bible several times I have yet to find any description of “Biblical” manhood or womanhood.

What is written are what characteristics a man likes about a woman (see Song of Solomon and Proverbs 31) and what characteristics a woman likes about a man (see Song of Solomon). None of these “characteristics” – physical and pragmatic – carry the moral weight of the Ten Commandments. These “characteristics” should never be used to propagate more sons and daughters of the “Biblically” masculine and feminine.

I believe that the Church with regard to its “genderfication” of males and females has become a stumbling block for the weak.

There are those in the church who are perfectly comfortable conveying the macho role that men play in on TV. And there are some in the church who base gender roles on the corn-fed lyrics of country music. There are women’s conferences about “Biblical” womanhood based on Proverbs 31. And there are many more instances of role play.

I have no problem with role play. Role play is a given in relationships. But I have a problem with a rite of conventionality outside of conforming to the image of Christ. This statement may be too much for some people in the church, I understand.

Yet, the weak, the searching, may easily stumble when such stereotyping is placed askance to their faith.

One could say that Proverbs 31 was written by patrician authors who imagined the qualities of an ideal woman to be in relationship with or for King Solomon’s court. Proverbs 31 definitely speaks of a pragmatic woman and not of a physical woman, as does Song of Solomon. (Platonic men would later consider woman’s physical beauty a type of entrapment and something to avoid.)

But in this day and age Christian men also enact Proverbs 31, do they not? Should we delineate gender based on Proverbs 31? My answer is “No.”

Why create extra yokes called the “Biblical Masculine and Feminine” to be placed on people’s necks? Isn’t a “Biblical” manhood and womanhood referenced only at the conjunction of men and women? And, isn’t marriage of man and wife the nexus that is the positive anti-thesis to same-sex anomalies.

Now it is common knowledge that people do not like ambiguity. We demand black and white. We demand inerrancy. And, we demand “Biblically masculine and feminine” males and females. Our minds are wired to alert us to any differences to a norm. When a perceived threat to a norm occurs we seek to reconcile things as quickly as possible.

Any ambiguity comes off as a potential threat to our understanding of how life should be. As related to gender we tend to overemphasize male and female “roles” in order to reduce our anxiety over ambiguity. Here it is, I believe, that some of the fear of non-conformity has grown out the Christian Fundamentalist movement that was raised up in the early twentieth century against the threat of Liberal theologian’s textual infractions. The Conservative Christian world sought to tighten its reins on what is and isn’t “Biblical.” And in so doing it is also now putting a noose around each gender.

Yet, there is no gender typecasting or stereotyping in Scripture, only sacrosanct relationships established and reinforced. And, more importantly, the message of the Gospel offers everyone freedom from fear. This includes freedom from the fear of the ambiguous and the unknown, whether the fear is of material nature or of the fear of gender “status.”

We should not live with the fear of the not being able to follow the letter of the Law and especially as conjoined with the added impedance of “Biblical” gender.

The current falderal about “Biblical” manhood and womanhood are gooey sentimental and romantic notions mandated under the banner of the “Biblically” acceptable. Let’s not go there. Let’s not make the freedom and fun of romantic role play into religious rule pretense. Let’s be free to be men and women without the yoke of the man-made gender laws placed on our necks. And then, perhaps, homosexuals will then feel free to come home and find new hope under the roof of Christ-like relationships.

In my estimation the best how-to books to lead a Spirit-filled life are the Bible and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. Forget the OTC self-help books and seminars on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. You would be wasting your time and money. Worse, you would most likely seek to adapt to someone else’s notion of what it is to be a man or a woman. Run from this nonsense. GIGO.

~~~

"Jewish Wedding" by Jozef Israels (Dutch, 1824-1911)

“Jewish Wedding” by Jozef Israels (Dutch, 1824-1911)

The closest we come to “Biblical” manhood and “Biblical” womanhood in the Bible, as I read it, is within the Apostle Paul’s circular letter to the churches at and around Ephesus (Ephesians chapter 5). It is there that he instructs Christians as to how men and women should relate to each other and he does so with equanimity and, more importantly, in the context Christ and His Bride, the Church.

Paul’s circular letter should be read in the context of Ephesus being the protectorate of the Temple of Artemis aka Diana. “There was no other Greco-Roman metropolis in the Empire whose ‘body, soul and spirit’ could so belong to a particular deity as did Ephesus to her patron goddess Artemis.” (Oster 1990:1728) Many in the Greco-Roman world came to Ephesus take part in the seductive sexuality of Diana’s worship, worship which included prostitution. Adored as life givers women were given inordinate prominence. As such, they were placed above men.

Sadly, so many sermons and books and seminars parse out “wives submit to your husbands” and “husbands love your wives”.  As I see it, Paul wrote to these churches – churches situated in the context of the worship of the female deity Diana, and specifically this passage to promote a Kingdom view of women as opposed to the Artemis view. In the Spirit’s way, Paul let it be known that women were not to be placed on a pedestal as an idol or to be used– not as a Madonna or as a whore.

Paul writes to the Ephesian church outlining a Kingdom of God view of relationships. Husbands are to love their wives and not submit to prostitutes.  Wives are to submit to their husbands and not to those who would put them on a pedestal to worship or in a bed as a prostitute. Paul advances the true characteristics of Kingdom of God people: concomitant respect and love of husband and wife.

More than any pretense of “Biblical” gender teaching, the Scriptures order our relationships as it orders our loves: Love God with all your heart, mind, body and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

Husbands who love their wives love their closest neighbor and are in fact submitting to the Lord within her.

Wives who submit to their husbands submit to their closest neighbor and do so out of love for the Lord within him.

This gamboling of submission and love resembles, I imagine, the relationships of the Trinity and Their dancing embrace.

Indulge me:

~~~~

Related:

Here’s what culture says:  27 Ways to Be a Modern Man

Added:

Scans prove there’s no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain

Ends Justifying the Means & Dereliction of Duty : “You can’t have one without the other”

“Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

First:  A Dereliction of Dignity

“Justice Kennedy and Dignity”

Prior to the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage:  “He [Justice Kennedy] explained that “by authorizing same-sex unions and same-sex marriages, New York sought to give further protection and dignity to that bond.” “…”Justice Kennedy can be remembered as the decisive vote for creating same-sex marriage or as the man who gave same-sex couples the opportunity to argue for the dignity of their relationships. It is unlikely that he can be remembered as both.”

Justice Kennedy please take some notes.

[Justice Clarence] Thomas wrote in his dissent that there is no “dignity” clause in the US Constitution — and that, even if there was, the government could not bestow it upon a person or take it away.

 

Second:  A Dereliction of Duty

Marriage: It’s an institute you must not disparage. Yet, the Supreme Court and State Attorneys General (AGs) have disparaged natural marriage. Many state AGs have not done their due diligence for the people they serve. The following video describes their disgrace.

The video does contain a bit of legalese but it is absolutely necessary for Christians to understand what is taking place in the world around them. This video will inform you of the failure of those whom we trusted.

BTW: I don’t have to tell you that the Left preaches tolerance but the Left is the most intolerant group on earth. The Left depends on bullying to get its way.

Dereliction of Duty: State Attorneys General Failing to Defend Marriage Laws in Court

Your Kiss, Your Kiss is On My…One and Only List

Man and wife kissing, again!

Man and wife kissing, again!

Holy marriage between a man and a woman is beautiful to behold…the two becoming one.

~~

Last weekend I attended a wedding just outside Minneapolis. The ceremony was held in a small church.

The bride and groom exchanged their vows before God and before man. They partook of the Eucharist while a soloist sang.

After the pronouncement of “man and wife” the groom threw up his arm in exaltation and shouted, “Yeah!” and then the two kissed.

The reception was held in a nearby country club where these two photos were taken. The pictures are blurry because…you are looking through tears.

 

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine, He who pastures his flock among the lilies."

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, He who pastures his flock among the lilies.”

אני לדודי ודודי לי (Ani l’dodi v’dodi li) is taken from Song of Solomon 6:3 and translates, “I am my beloveds and my beloved is mine”.

You’re the Best Particle of Me

Did you know that Intelligently Designed quantum physics provides matchmaking services? You didn’t?  Well, recently, I read…

”…that in reality two electrons can really fit into the same energy level because they can have opposite spins.  This means that they can both fit into the lowest (symmetric) energy level and, crucially, this level decreases in energy as the atoms get closer together.  This means that it is energetically favorable for two distant atoms to move closer. And this is what happens in nature.”

 And God saw that it was not good for atom to be alone.

 (Two electrons, opposite spins?  The atoms get closer together?  Yin and Yang, Matter and anti-matter. Grace and nature. Male and female. This fundamental symmetry makes sense at the atomic level and also at the nuclear family level.  Hence the mating song “I’ve Got You Under My Spectrascope.”)

 “…This preference for two atoms to stick together as a result of sharing their electrons between them is known as a covalent bond.”…

 And the preference for two humans (Mr. Spin up and Ms. Spin down) to stick together as a result of sharing their lives in the molecule of marriage is known as intimate bonding.

 “…covalent bonding is the reason that you are not a bunch of atoms sloshing around in a featureless blob.”

 This explains a lot about my love life!  I’ve got your atomic number, buddy.

 Matchmaker, Matchmaker make me a match. A little covalence bonding is all I ask.

 The above quotes from Chapter Eight, Interconnected, from:

The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything That Can Happen Does) by Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw, Da Capo Press, copyright 2011

 You should know that…

Covalent bonding is universal:

The Boy in the Tent

Last night I found myself in a van, my ex driving us to a familiar campground in the next state.  We wanted to get there as fast as we could.  We urgently wanted to get to our seven year-old son.

 We drove through the darkness panting and leaning forward in our seats. Just before sunrise we entered the campground.  We drove over to the campsite where we had camped many times before. There in the middle of a grassy opening surrounded by oak trees was a lone pup tent.

 I jumped out of the van and ran over to the tent. Down on my knees I lifted the tent flap and looked into the dimly lit tent.  My son was sitting in the middle of the otherwise empty tent.  He was facing the other way.

 There was nothing in front of him. He sat dead still.

 I crawled over to him.  As I did so he turned his head to look at me. He then got up, jumped into my arms and hugged me tightly.

 After a while we released our hug and I put him down.  He returned to sit in the same place in the tent. He sat down facing away from me.

 I went out of the tent.  My ex had been yelling from the car that we had to leave.

 I called back to my son and told him that we were going, that he must come along. There was no reply.

 ****

 I opened my eyes and winced them shut again.  The pit of my stomach felt as if it had been carved out of me while I slept.  When the silent sobbing began I tried to cover the wound.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Driftless By Design

When John gave her the ring he hoped that marriage would follow soon after. It did. Mary said yes. His unspoken question was answered with her unspoken assent on the same day. She simply nestled her head against his neck in silent agreement. They were married in June of that year, 1957.

The couple spent much of their time together in nature. There were yearly camping trips to lakes, mountains and forests. Twilight and sunrise often shared the light of their campfires. By way of nature’s vast expanse, the couple became closer. For them, there was never a thought of sitting in front of the television set night after night, pining for something more. They chose what they wanted: the panoply of the natural world; the broad-shouldered earth.

Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park became the site of an annual destination for the couple. The state park, located only three and a half hours from their home, is demarcated in southwestern Wisconsin. It lies within driftless area of the Upper Mississippi River Basin. The Mississippi, Chippewa, Kickapoo and Black rivers flow through this area, dissecting the uneven landscape and forcing the weaving of man-made roads.

The park offers two lakes: Cox Hollow and Twin Valley Lakes. The couple’s favorite campsite, near Cox Hollow Lake, is nestled among oaks, white pines and hickory trees. Through a clearing at the edge of their campsite the couple viewed a gently sloping field blanketed with goldenrod and sunflowers. At one time Mary told John that the Monarch butterflies that silently fluttered among this dappled setting were faeries. John told Mary that the Hummingbirds that hovered in their camp sought only the sweetest of nectars – his Mary.

The road trip to Governor Dodge was easy. The ride became a time to talk about nothing and about everything, a means to embrace the other. As was their way, they would pack on Thursday evening. Then, On Friday morning they would drive up in hopes of getting their favored spot before the weekend campers arrived.

When they arrived at Governor Dodge they paid their campsite fee, found their site and unpacked the car. Everything would be in its place within an hour. They prepared well.

Their first afternoon was usually spent sitting on the grassy hillside looking down on the sandy beach of Cox Hollow Lake. The scattered oak trees blocked the high afternoon sun, while a cool lake breeze ascended up the hill. These surroundings made it easy for John and Mary to nap, even though children whooped and wailed when splashed with lake water. Later in the afternoon the air would become filled with the cacophony of weekend visitors greeting each other.

When dinner time came around John and Mary had cooking down pat: Coleman stove, cast iron skillet, freshly caught walleye fried in butter with tear-prompting onions and brought-from-home herbs sizzling alongside. Dessert was an ice cream bar bought at the camp store just up the hill from the lake. And, a cup of Thermos coffee.

The undiluted sprawling sky above Governor Dodge State Park provided the couple with an open air observatory. At night they would drive out to an isolated ridge road that passed through an open field. They would park in the grass, get out and sit on the hood of their car. It seemed to them that the darkened heavens published dot-to-dot pictures: Ursa Major with its asterism The Big Dipper affixing north.

John and Mary would trace the points of light with their fingers. Occasionally, the celestial array of distant lights became cloaked by screeching bat swarms flying in high speed pursuit of blood thirsty mosquitoes. Mary liked the bats, but only for this reason.

After midnight, the couple would return to their campsite. They would make one final inspection of their food storage. They knew that robbing raccoons were on the prowl. When they were both ready, they quickly entered their tent hoping to keep the uneaten mosquitoes on the outside with the bats. Once inside, they replayed their favorite memory.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Marriage

Marriage is disarming.  The every day volatility is alarming and yet reassuring. The refuge and prestige are comforting. We are one and two together. And, that seems to be enough.

 Let’s examine.  I am woman.  He, a man.   We submit to each other for the purpose of refuge and prestige, under vow of love. Therein, embrace and endurance, capital “T” “tedium” and lower case “me“.

“We” – pronoun of the first person plural (compare I, our, ours, us).

 “We” falters.  “We” begins again.  “We” starts.  “We” stops. “We” meanders. “We” relishes and defines and redefines.  “We” supposes and deposes. “We” questions and answers. “We” finalizes and leaves open-ended. 

‘We” is progenitor, a community of life and the recipient of sacramental blessing.

 “We”, together, each and the other.  Forever.

********

Here’s a look at one marriage from a passage of Samuel Beckett’s novel Malone Dies:

The man’s name is Saposcat. Like his father’s. Christian name? I don’t know. He will not need one. His friends call him Sapo. What friends? I don’t know. A few words about the boy.
This cannot be avoided. …

…He was the eldest child of poor and sickly parents. He often heard them talk of what they ought to do in order to have better health and more money. He was struck each time by the vague-ness of these palavers and not surprised that they never led to anything. His father was a salesman, in a shop. He used to say to his wife, I really must find work for the evenings and the Saturday afternoon. He added, faintly, And the Sunday. His wife would answer, But if you do any more work you’ll fall ill. And Mr. Saposcat had to allow that he would indeed be ill- advised to forego his Sunday rest. These people at least are grown up. But his health was not so poor that he could not work in the evenings of the week and on the Saturday afternoon. At what, said his wife, work at what? Perhaps secretarial work of some kind, he said. And who will look after the garden? said his wife. The life of the Saposcats was full of axioms, of which one at least established the criminal absurdity of a garden without roses and with its paths and lawns uncared for. I might perhaps grow vegetables, he said. They cost less to buy, said his wife. Sapo marvelled at these conversations. Think of the price of manure, said his mother. And in the silence which followed Mr. Saposcat applied his mind, with the earnestness he brought to everything he did, to the high price of manure which prevented him from supporting his family in greater comfort, while his wife made ready to accuse herself, in her turn, of not doing all she might. But she was easily persuaded that she could not do more without exposing herself to the risk of dying before her time. Think of the doctor’s fees we save, said Mr. Saposcat. And the chemist’s bills, said his wife. Nothing remained but to envisage a smaller house. But we are cramped as it is, said Mrs. Saposcat. And it was an understood thing that they would be more and more so with every passing year until the
day came when, the departure of the first-born compensating the arrival of the new-born, a kind of equilibrium would be attained. Then little by little the house would empty. And at
last they would be all alone, with their memories. It would be time enough then to move.

He would be pensioned off, she at her last gasp. They would take a cottage in the country where, having no further need of manure, they could afford to buy it in cartloads. And their children, grateful for the sacrifices made on their behalf, would come to their assistance. It was in this atmosphere of unbridled dream that these conferences usually ended. It was as though the Saposcats drew the strength to live from the prospect of their impotence. But sometimes, before reaching that stage, they paused to consider the case of their first-born. What age is he now? asked Mr. Saposcat. His wife provided the information, it being understood that this was of her province. She was always wrong. Mr. Saposcat took over
the erroneous figure, murmuring it over and over to himself as though it were a question of the rise in price of some indispensable commodity, such as butcher’s meat. And at the same time he sought in the appearance of his son some alleviation of what he had just heard. Was it at least a nice sirloin? Sapo looked at his father’s face, sad, astonished, loving, disappointed, confident in spite of all. Was it on the cruel flight of the years he brooded, or on the time it was taking his son to command a salary? Sometimes he stated wearily his regret that his son should not be more eager to make himself useful about the place. It is better for him to prepare his examinations, said his wife. Starting from a given theme their minds laboured in unison. They had no conversation properly speaking. They made use of the spoken word in much the same way as the guard of a train makes use of his flags, or of his lantern. Or else they said, This is where we get down. And their son once signalled, they wondered sadly if it was not the mark of superior minds to fail miserably at the written paper and cover themselves with ridicule at the viva voce. They were not always content to gape in silence at the same landcape. At least his health is good, said Mr. Saposcat. Not all that, said his wife. But no definite disease, said Mr. Saposcat. A nice thing that would be, at his age, said his wife. They did not know why he was committed to a liberal profession. That was yet another thing that went without saying. It was therefore impossible he should be unfitted for it. They thought of him as a doctor for preference. He will look after us when we are old, said Mrs. Saposcat. And her husband replied, I see him rather as a surgeon, as though after a certain age people were inoperable.

There once was couple…

  There once was a couple, who lived on a Rock,

In a town they called Steadfast, in the middle of the block.

Their home was built firmly, out of truth and with love,

For bricks and for mortar, they inquired above.

**

Now to this family, four children were born,

Then grandchildren and great-grandchildren like fields of corn.

Each life was planted firmly, in truth and with love,

For patience and for peace, they inquired above.

**

Sixty years of cherished memories, one frame at a time,

Help to bring into sharp focus matrimony sublime,

And capture the image of God’s great gift of love.

For the grace to endure, they inquired above.

**

“All things work together”, ‘tis easy to say,

But the couple on the Rock proved it true in just this way:

They lived sixty years in the vow of true love;

They put the Lord first and they inquired above.

**

The point of this story, I think you’ll agree,

Is a marriage made in heaven, a marriage meant to be,

It has weathered the storms and cared for a flock –

There once was a couple, who lived on a Rock…

***

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

Over Easy, Please

eggs over easy

Father Henry and his wife Margaret were already seated in the restaurant when Daniel arrived. Daniel had been futzing about at home looking for his reading glasses. He had wanted to read a newspaper article about claustrophobia when he realized that he was late for his weekly lunch with the rector and his wife.

As Daniel came in the restaurant door, Father Henry looked up at him from the table and caught Daniel glancing at the newspaper. Father Henry was reading the same article that he was trying to read at home: Claustrophobia, Uncovering Your Fears. The title of the article had caught Daniel’s eye and apparently Father Henry’s. Margaret moved across the table to sit with her husband and Daniel sat across facing them both.

“Hi, how are you Father Henry and Margaret?”

“We’re fine Daniel. How are things?” Father Henry spoke, looking at his wife Margaret.

“Except for some claustrophobia, I guess I am doing alright.” Daniel smiled with a nod to the newspaper lying open on the table.

“Hah, I see. Well, good. How about some coffee? Here comes the waitress.”

Daniel ordered some eggs over easy and some coffee. Father Henry ordered some French toast, two plates and two orange juices.

“The last time we had gotten together, Daniel, you had mentioned that you had a close friend at your previous church.” Father Henry spoke from behind a raised coffee cup.

“Yeah, Allan and I were close friends. I spent time with him and two other guys in a prayer cell group. This was before the divorce. We met at least once a month to talk and pray. Later, after the divorce, I would also bring my two kids over to his house and spend time with him and his wife. I often ate dinner with them. We both had kids the same age. The kids got along really well.”

“What was the prayer cell group like? Did you enjoy that?”

“It was alright, I guess. The prayer cells groups were started in order to bring together the people who ministered in the church. The cell group was to be a place of accountability and fellowship. Before that group ever met, I often met with Allan for breakfast to talk about work and to pray before going to work.

“Were you ministering in that church then?”

“Yes, I was a Sunday School teacher for grade school kids and I played in the worship band. I play the trumpet.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“Music and my trumpet have been in life since I was a kid. Music has often helped me cope with a lot of life’s madness. I enjoy playing the horn in the worship service. It’s very Biblical you know?” Daniel smiled.

“Were the other guys in the ministry at that church?”

“Ah, yeah, two of them were in the music ministry, as well. My close friend, Allan, was a working priest. He wasn’t a full time priest at the church. He had a full time job.

“How did it go with those guys?”

“I met with them as often as I could for the prayer cell meetings. I had a full time job. I was a partner in a company which I helped to start. I was the VP of Engineering. This meant that any equipment issues – we were a manufacturing company – this meant that if a customer called up with a problem the call was always forwarded to me. I worked a ton of hours and was out of town a lot. When I was at home I wanted to stay at home. The job took a lot out of me.”

“Yeah, something like that would. I am called on at all hours of the night in my position.” Father Henry looked at Margaret.

“I would go to church on Sunday and then I would want to come home and stay at home for the balance of the day. My ex, who was at home all week, wanted to go out and be with our church friends all day Sunday. I would tell her that I was exhausted and that I just needed some rest. I often worked 60-70 hours a week besides taking care of the house, the kids and the rest. When she heard me say that I wanted to be at home on Sunday afternoon she would tell our friends that I wasn’t coming. She told our children, I later found out, that I was being unsociable. My own kids would later say this back to me. I was upset by such a characterization by my wife.”

Did the guys in your cell group talk about their jobs and their marriages?”

“Yeah, my friend Allan and I usually talked the most intimately about our lives and marriages. The other two guys would talk about somebody being sick at their office. That’s what they would pray about, too.”

The waitress brought the meals and poured some coffee in Daniel’s cup. Father Henry gave thanks for the meal.

“So you shared your life with these guys?” Margaret asked.

“I shared with them about my job and about my two business partners. I talked about the work I did and the frustrations of my job. I also talked about my marriage and about how my wife always wanted me to go to counseling. She constantly pushed for a separation. She would say that I was the cause of our marriage’s problems.  She, in turn, wouldn’t accept responsibility for her part in the marriage’s problems. I would go to counseling by myself and nothing would change because the issues she had with me were inside of her and she wasn’t willing to go there. Her past was present in our marriage but she couldn’t see it. My issues were being talked about constantly. I talked about my own unresolved anger and my projection onto her. I learned to stop doing this and to look at the source of my own anger, which usually came from out of my past. I learned that I must face my own anger and my past and to speak out about my real needs. I felt that I couldn’t share with her my needs or who I was and this made me angry. I often felt alone in the marriage, too. I did learn that I should know who I am, that I should know why I am angry, that I should speak about my needs to my spouse and then don’t expect her to meet those needs. If my needs were met by her then, of course, that would be great but I couldn’t demand such a thing from her. I learned to live in the tension of not having my needs met and of not becoming angry and not being escapist with pornography. I put that out of my life. I wanted to be real and be in a real relationship with someone for the first time in my life. But, it was actually at this point when I started to become ‘real’ and honest within that I started to say “No, its not true.” to her angry projections put onto me.  It was then that she became more determined to divorce. We were in two different places and she wouldn’t let me get near her, even though I had tried many times. I understood it later that her perfectionism, born out of her troubled past, kept her from responding to me. She wanted things to be perfect, for our marriage to lived out perfectly with no remembrance of her past troubles.  She denied having any issues at all.  And,  she wanted something that even she could not put her finger on and of course I couldn’t meet that undetermined need.  This was an impossible situation, so things remained unresolved.”

“That must have been frustrating.” Father Henry spoke looking into his coffee.

“It was extremely frustrating. And, I found out via the guys in the prayer group that my wife was saying negative things to their wives about me. They wanted me to share my “stuff” with them in our get-togethers. I felt betrayed by everyone involved. I later decided to stop going to the prayer cell group. I wasn’t going to become the focus of the prayer cell because of my wife’s projection onto me and because two of the guys in the group didn’t share anything of substance at all. I was also working so much that I needed as many breaks as I could get.”

“What happened then, with your wife?” Margaret asked.

“We separated and eventually divorced. We had gone to marriage counseling for a while but never once were her “issues” with me ever discussed, examined or understood. Never. The counselor and I, neither of us, knew what issue she had with me other than her saying, “I don’t think he loves me.” We did know that she wanted to end the marriage and it appeared that I was going to be the scapegoat for her decision. Again, as I found out later, she had talked to our close friends at the church, the rector and her family and she had made me look bad before them. I was being set up for the divorce.”

“What about your close friend, Allan? Did he see what was going on?” Father Henry queried.

“Yeah, I think so. He said he wouldn’t take sides. I was the one in the group who talked openly about things in my marriage so it would seem to the guys in the group, I think, that I was the one who was the problem in the marriage. I did not want the marriage to end and I had made that clear. I wanted to reconcile with her and she couldn’t bring herself to that place. Her own troubled past was too much in the present and I became the object of her unresolved anger. She couldn’t see that this was happening.”

“Did you and Allan get together after you and your wife were separated?”

“Yeah, we still hung out but it was more awkward because I was now single. I brought my kids over to his house, as I mentioned earlier. He and his wife, Joan, had seven kids. Two of their kids were my kid’s age, so they got along great. I enjoyed that friendship but I was hurting a lot from the destruction of our marriage. I didn’t know how I could even share it with anyone. Allan would talk even handedly like all the other counselors and say both people are to responsible in a marriage breakup and I knew this not to be true. I knew these words were just a gobbledygook response of impartiality on the part of the people saying this. If one person in a marriage wants a divorce than what can you do? Vows no longer matter to people like that. They are going to divorce and then relive their unresolved anger out with someone new.”

“I would agree with you, on this.” Father Henry again looked at Margaret.

Margaret asked, “Did Allan’s wife say anything to you about your marriage situation?”

“I felt a cold shoulder from her, like I was the problem in the marriage, like I was too stupid to know better or to change. This may not be true and it may only be my projection onto her but that is how I felt around her.”

Margaret spoke, “Maybe she felt in an odd place and she wasn’t sure of the whole truth.”

“I think you are right.” Daniel responded. “I was very sensitive at this time to any criticism. I knew that I was talking honestly to several people about myself and about my marriage during this time and I felt very vulnerable in doing so. I felt completely alone and isolated. My ex was making me out to be a pariah to my kids and to my friends at church and everyone, it seemed, was going along for the ride. Elise seemed so honest and sincere – this sweet girl from Iowa. I knew her differently, though, but I didn’t talk about her to my friends or to my kids. I just said that we were having problems at home and we were trying to find answers.”

“What happened with the kids? Who got custody?” Margaret asked.

“My ex finally got custody of our two children. I, of course, had to hire an attorney for the divorce and pay thousands of dollars defending myself. Elise knew that I had paid 28% of my income to a previous wife for my two older children for sixteen years. Elise hated the fact that I gave money to another woman for my two older sons. She wanted the money for her own purposes. She gave me grief over it every day. In fact, it became her new battle cry during the last two years of our marriage: “I can take your kids, I can take 28% of your income and I can make you pay!” “I wasn’t sure what I was going to pay for but she made it clear with her threats that I should toe her line. This situation was untenable for any marriage.”

“Wow, that became an impossible situation for you.”

“Imagine trying to run a business as a VP of Engineering and having to go out of town to represent your company. Imagine the weight placed on me trying to hold everything to together at work and at home and then being blamed for not doing enough by my wife to make her happy. Imagine.” Daniel looked down. “The real hard thing is that now I only see my own kids every other weekend. They are no longer the same happy kids. They are decidedly different. They are easily angered. They are no longer respectful to me or to each other or of anyone, for that matter. They have learned from their mother that they can choose who they want to obey. They no longer follow the Lord because Elise no longer follows the Lord. She abandoned her church and her church friends and they abandoned her. Elise tells the kids what to think about me. I get their attitude all the time when I see them. This is sad for me. Elise now lives with some guy she met at a bar. I love my kids and they have been hurt tremendously by Elise and the divorce industry. I have been almost destroyed by all of this, as well. My parents tell me that some day my kids will know better about all of this. I don’t know. I think they will be forever scarred. God help them.”

“Daniel, we will keep you in our prayers. The Lord knows your heart for your kids and towards Elise. He will make all things right for them and for you.” Father Henry ended our meal with a prayer:

“Father, let Your love surround these children, Elise and Daniel. Restore to them the joy of their salvation. Protect these children from the Evil One who desires to use this situation for His own purposes. Keep them in Your love. Give Daniel what he needs right now. We thank you for the courage he has shown in facing these issues. Grant him Your peace. I ask these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.”

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved