Tuesday, January 31, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 012

March 11, 2005

Ms Jovian, I have read your other journals, Secret Radio and Standard Christian. Your experiences helped me put my own past in an abusive church in perspective. (If you can believe it, my preacher back then preached against sugar. How's that for Biblical?) Then the police arrested him for stalking young men. He did some time in jail and has disappeared. He was a GIBC grad. Did you know him? Tommy Brush. Some people say he has changed his name and is preaching again.

I am sorry to read of your troubles. I am praying for you. We have a share group that meets on Sundays through my church, and we are praying for you. I feel like I know you after reading so much of your experiences. May God bless you with wisdom and be your constant consolation and companion in a time of sorrow.

Best wishes,
J.J.
Anchorage, Alaska

++++

You are a sad, sick person Grace "Jovian". Your world is one of delusion where you are both the victim and the avenger. You offer nothing here but scorn and heresy. Your theology is a mixture of biblical truth with feminist propaganda. I had you pegged two years ago when your first disgusting Secret Radio story came out, and nothing has changed.

Your obsession with Preacher Mack and GIBC, which has brought more people to the Lord than you can even count is a sign of your insanity. You are either titilated by recounting these same accounts over and over and over OR you have never overcome the abuse within your own life. Those miserable suck-ups who write to you about their miserable lives as second-class Christians can flatter you and support you while vilifying godly men like me and that's fine. If anybody truly cared for you they would pray for you to get the help you so desperately need. But nobody does care, not even your own husband.

Pastor Gary Flowmont
Whirlwind Harvest Independent Baptist Church
Whirlwind Harvest, Pennsylvania


We dawdled through Pennsylvania. We passed a sign that boasted a real Amish restaurant with "shoo fly pie" and both Benjamin and Rachel, my little gourmands, wanted to try it. So we found the place, a good 45 minutes out of our route, and stood in line for nearly an hour.

But everything was served family style, and it amazed me to see all the men in the place with the square-cut beards of Amish culture. Waitresses brought loaded plates to our table. They ask groups of fewer than four to share tables, so we ate with a middle-aged farm couple.

I am so proud of my children sometimes. They were on best manners, and they asked that dear couple all kinds of questions about horses and cows and tractors (Ben's current favorite topic). I think the man and his wife were just as pleased to talk to well-mannered children who were so interested in them. At the end, the children were too full for pie, and the man told me he would be pleased to give us a pie from the restaurant's little shop, to take on our way, and he did. Rachel kissed him and his wife goodbye.

There are still some places, I thought, where adultery has not set foot. There are places where the chief thought of the day is to get the work done, where team work in marriage is not just a beautiful idea but a necessity, a way of life, so valuable that people understand they need it like they need air and water.

We reached Amy Carmichael and Jim's steep driveway just before five. The entire family came piling out of the house, not wearing their Sunday best, but dressed in clean clothes, everybody groomed and tidy. Even Jim was there, home from work early to greet us, his face welcoming but his eyes slightly anxious. I had told them why I was coming.

Before I had even unlocked my car door, James Jr and Mark, their second born at 13, were at my side, ready to help with the luggage.

The boys toted all our things into the guest room while Rose Sharon, or "Rosie" as they called her, took my Rachel to her room to show her the toys and games. Rosie is a year younger than my nine-year old Rachel and is two inches taller. She has her father's tall, slim build and his coloring as well.

Amy Carmichael took me by the hand after we hugged and kissed, and she kept hold of my hand while she cheerfully directed the mob of seven children.

They got everybody settled, and Jim stood in the middle of their small front room, his fists on his hips, and said, "Now children, the grown ups are going to get dinner ready. And we have things we have to talk about. Who's got homework?"

The three older boys did, and the other two had finished theirs. So Jim told the older boys to do their homework, and he had the younger ones settle down to watch The Incredibles, which has just come out in the last few weeks on DVD and which he had purchased that day as a special treat for everybody. Even though Ben and Rachel watched the first half the night before, they were just as keen to see it again and reach the end this time.

Amy Carmichael, Jim, and I went into the kitchen, and then Jim had me sit at the table while he got plates and silverware and everything else. And Amy Carmichael stirred the great crockpot on the counter and put frozen slabs of garlic bread under the broiler to toast.

"All right Gracie," Jim said. "We can talk about any details you want to talk about after the children are in bed. But I want to know if you'd like to stay here with us. We have a little house I built with my brothers when I was first learning. It's just down the hill. You could live rent free, and be safe with us nearby."

The invitation made my eyes wet. No, I thought, Jim had never forgotten his promise. He still wore denim jeans and a clean, untattered black t-shirt. His high cheek bones and slightly squared-off eyes looked older from years of wind and sun in outdoor work. But he was still tall, with shoulders that were deceptively broad because his height lessened the image of that raw strength. His one concession to age and the luxuries of Amy Carmichael's cooking and his easy chair was a small pot belly. It made him hitch up his pants if he stood still for too long.

"Jim, to be honest with you, I don't know what to do."

"Are you afraid of him, Gracie? If you are, you have to stay here."

The question startled me. "Oh Jim, Greg's never hurt me that way. He would never hit me."

He stopped his journeys between cabinets and table to put his fists on his hips and stare at me, his square eyes suddenly helpless. And Amy Carmichael turned from the oven. "Grace," she said. "Your face is bruised."

"What?"

She crossed to me and touched my forehead about halfway between my eyes and hairline. The place was sore. I put my hand to my head, stunned. How had I not seen it? But maybe the bruise had needed time to develop. Adultery, I thought, is full of the impossible at every turn. All the things you never thought of start flying at you like meteors, coming faster and faster. All the things you stare at and never see are pointed out to you by others. I'd been walking around with a bruise on my face. With a smarting sense of realization, I instantly wondered at the kindness of the man and his wife back at the restaurant.

"Greg didn't hit me," I said quickly. "He was trying to get into the house, and I was holding the door closed. He jerked it so hard towards himself that I flew through it and hit him with my head in the chest. It knocked me all the way down to the kitchen floor."

"Did he help you up?" Jim asked.

"I started throwing things at him. I threw plates and dishes at him, Jim." I said it guiltily, still ashamed of my insane rage, and what I had put my own children through.

"Well, did you get him?" Jim asked. And I saw in those sparkling dark eyes the resentment he felt for Greg.

"James," Amy Carmichael said gently.

He checked himself.

"I terrified the children," I said. "They were there. I don't know for how long. They were so afraid."

He came over to me and took my hand. "Your children can deal with this, Gracie. We'll help them."

I felt those obstinate tears start again. "But I want them to have a real childhood. I don't want to force them to grow up. My parents got me into the middle of their problems---"

"You can keep your children out of it," Jim said quickly. "You won't make the mistakes your mother made." He started to set out the plates.

I stood up to help him, even though they had told me not to do any work. "We all make the mistakes our parents make," I said. And my voice, again, sounded like somebody else's voice.

"Yes we do," Amy Carmichael said quietly.

Jim glanced at her. "And then we see what we're doing and catch ourselves," he said emphatically.

"Well yes." She nodded. But I had the sense I had referenced an ongoing matter between them. I changed the subject slightly.

"Jim, I think they're both---traumatized. They seem all right now, but-" I shook my head.

"We'll help them." He gave me a nod, and we pulled out the table so he could set up the leaf.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 011

March 10, 2005

You deserve what you get for being a man hater and probably a lesbian. Your husband had to take what he could find because you weren't giving it to him. God has brought you down for being a lesbian man-hater and totally frigid. You're really sick and twisted. You and your journals.

Pastor Marky Schemer
Dry Bush Independent Baptist Church, New York.


The drive to the northern part of central Pennsylvania took almost 13 hours. I didn't want to wait, so while the children still slept I packed their things and then my own and loaded the car. Then at about 8:00 I woke them up, gently, and told them we were going to see Uncle Jim and Aunt Amy. Ben just barely remembers Jim. He actually remembers Jim's grand tractor more than he remembers Jim himself. Though Rachel has heard me talk about them, she has no memory of her last visit with them five years ago.

Still, the thought of seeing that tractor again certainly revived some of my Benjamin's spirits, as Jim let him steer it, and Ben has never forgotten that.

They dressed, and I promised them breakfast on the road, and they could pick the place. It was almost a relief to hear them argue about it as we pulled out at nine. I stopped by the bank and withdrew the cash limit on my ATM card. Then I took the credit card, which I have always handled with the greatest care, and withdrew the upper cash limit. I netted 10,000 dollars.

We visited a different bank, and I dealt with a woman representative. Ben and Rachel were fidgety, but I hushed them and she prepared to deposit 10,000 dollars in cash in a private account under my name. She knows exactly what I am doing. I am leaving my husband. And I am doing it in the most strategic and legal way possible, by making him pay for it through our joint accounts. I feel that I have no choice. I can't be at his mercy. And I think the woman at the bank, as I reminded the children to thank her when she gave them peppermints, agreed with me.

As she closed the transaction and I stood to go, she said, "You may want to consider putting a lien against any property held by anybody in debt to you, so that nothing is sold from under you."

I didn't even know what that meant, but I supposed Jim would know. I nodded and thanked her. Then as the children, ready for a road trip and all kinds of adventures with Uncle Jim and Aunt Amy, urged me to hurry, she and I looked at each other. She was sad for me, with a sincere sorrow. How many women have been through this, I wondered. And then I hurried out with my road warriors.

I thought we would get there today, but by five o'clock they were tired and cranky. More like normal children, thank God, I thought. They are no longer afraid of me. Ben complained that I always do what Rachel wants. I nearly rebuked him, as he is always insisting that I like Rachel more. But then I saw him in my mind, terrified of seeing me hurling plates and screaming at his father, asking me with huge eyes and shaking voice if I'd had a bad dream.

"What do you want, Ben?" I asked. "Tell me what you want to do, and I'll try to do it."

"To stop at a motel with an indoor pool," he said. The road always means adventure to Ben, and adventure carries with it promises of certain luxuries not available at home.

"You don't have your bathing suits," I said.

For answer, my two munchkins pulled up their shirts. Ben had his trunks on under his pants, and Rachel had her one-piece on under her clothing. My children are brilliant, I thought. Smarter than Mom. And for the first time, I felt a pang like an arrow going through me, because the instinct is still there to tell Greg and laugh about it with him. But Greg is hundreds of miles and another world behind us.

So we found a very nice Best Western with an indoor pool. And I let them swim as much as they liked. But they are both tired. In less than an hour they were finished. We microwaved popcorn in the room and watched The Incredibles on television via the hotel's movie selection options. I'm spending a boodle, but they deserve some happiness on a journey that is going to be a long and difficult for all of us.

Now it's sinking in on me. And I don't know what to do. I don't know how he could have done this to me. I don't know how or when he stopped loving me. And I feel incredibly stupid. Thrown over.

I just popped the children into bed, and even though the movie is still playing, they are asleep. They both look small and vulnerable, too small for all of this.

So I sat and wrote this. I added Greg to my spam filter. Any emails he sends me are sent into the internet ether before I even see them. I see from the cell phone that I have messages, but I am not answering the cell phone. Before I talk to him, I want to talk to a man who respects me.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 010

March 9, 2005

After a long, long time I realized that I was in bare feet on broken pieces of plates and glasses. The house was cold. I was crouched down, but I didn't know why. And then I looked up and saw Benjamin and Rachel, holding each other by the pantry, crowded into a corner, their eyes enormous, their faces white.

"My children," I whispered.

Benjamin, with a courage I'll never forget, made the first move towards me, his voice shaking. "Mom?" His voice shook. It was only that rare determination, his father's determination, that kept him going "Did you have a bad dream?" He was terrified. Of me.

"Son," I said. "I'm so sorry. Stay there. You'll cut your feet. Stay right there."

I stood up and with careful steps I picked him up first. I told Rachel to stay until I got her, and she nodded and then her eyes filled up with tears. I carried him to the living room, and then I came and got her.

"Mama what happened?" she whispered as I set her down. "Where did Daddy go?"

"Mom don't you love Daddy any more?" Ben asked, his voice still shaking.

"Let me turn the heat on," I said, but they wouldn't let me go. They held onto me and kept saying they weren't cold. They were crying for me not to leave them, even though the thermostat was only up the hallway. So at last I bundled them onto the sofa with me. I held them both and felt them shivering.

"Benjamin and Rachel, I love you very much," I said. "Don't be afraid of me. That will never happen again. And I'll never hurt you, children. I love you more than anything."

"Mama are you mad at Daddy?" Rachel asked.

A sob got out of me. Benjamin, with an innocence and yet an insight that actually frightened me for a moment, suddenly asked, "Did Daddy stop loving us? What did Daddy do?"

"Children, it's all right." I rocked them both. Realization dawned on me. I had to protect them. I had to keep them out of this. "Mommy and Daddy have things they have to settle. But we love you. We'll always love you. But you have to let us work things out." Did Greg love them, I wondered. Or had they lost his love as well? My precious children, the most beautiful children in the world.

The tears started down my face as I held them and rocked them.

"Mom, will Daddy come back?" Rachel asked.

"Shh, darling. Daddy won't be back tonight. Don't be afraid any more. You're both so cold. Just let me get up and turn on the heat."

"No I'm not cold!" Benjamin exclaimed, clinging to me. And Rachel clung to me from her side. "I'm warm, Mommy!"

"Children, I'm sorry that I frightened you." I kissed their heads. I pulled the sofa cushions over us to make them warm.

"Don't cry," Ben said. "We love you."

I held them and waited, and after five minutes, Rachel nodded and dropped to sleep, her head on my lap. And then Ben fell asleep. Ben has a spare bed in his room, for sleepovers. I carried them, one at a time, to his room and put them to bed, and then I sat in the dark room with them to make sure they slept. After an hour passed, I went to my room and put on my slippers and my robe, and then I swept everything up in the kitchen and made sure the door was locked,

By then it was after three. I went into Ben's room and climbed into bed with Rachel. I held her in my arms. In his bed, Ben talked in his sleep a couple times, and I said, "Benjamin, I'm right here, Son," whenever he was troubled.

"Mommy it was just a bad dream," Rachel said, her eyes closed, at about five thirty. What have I done to my children? I thought. I couldn't pray because I was too ashamed. But I hoped God still knew and would protect them. Greg had fallen into adultery, and I had gone insane. It was still too much to take in. I couldn't take in anything more than the next minute. I couldn't think further than that.

And then, as the sun came up in a watery and cold dawn, I remembered Amy Carmichael and Jim. I remembered Jim's words to me so long ago. "You've been like a sister to me. You'll always be welcome in my house." I never doubted for a moment that after 15 years it would still matter to Jim, the man who had built a house for his betrothed with his own hands. Greg might abandon the most sacred of his promises, but Jim, I knew full well, would never abandon the least of his.

Like any badly used woman, I was going to run with my children to my trusted friends.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 009

March 9, 2005

It's five a.m. There's nothing to do but write. I have been up all night.

Greg has been having an affair. I caught him last night. He left his wallet home, and when I called him on his cell phone, after dinner, the young woman who does the drawings for the firm answered. I think I knew then. They weren't at the office at all. And I heard Greg say, before he thought, "That's my cell phone. And she said, "Yours is on the dresser." But she was wrong.

I hung up, and I ran to my computer. Greg handles our finances with a software program these days. But I know the password for his online account on his credit card. I logged on and looked at the bill. There it was, in a neat little column: one charge after another for a motel room in town, night after night. And flowers, and wine, and room service.

By that time, Greg was speeding home. He knew it had been me, and he knew that I knew.

In the short stride from our room to the front door to dead bolt it, I passed the photo of him and me on our honeymoon, another of him with the children, one of the four of us at Table Rock state park. They sat next to his certificate from the Bible Study Alliance.

I dead bolted the front door and closed the garage door, locked it from the inside by turning the handle so that the bolts slid through the slots, and came through the door to the kitchen. Then I made sure the broom handle was propped in the sliding glass door in back. Then I disconnected the door bell buzzer.

I went back to our room and pulled open the drawers. I yanked out all his things in the first drawer, opened the bedroom window, and shoved them right through the window onto the bushes.

That was when I heard him knocking on the front door. I pitched his undershirts especially hard through the window, and he saw the white silhouette fly through the dark night. I heard him run around from the front door to the bedroom window.

"Grace, let me explain---"

"Get out of here!" I heard myself scream at him. It sounded like another person. "Getoutgetoutgetout!"

I heard Rachel suddenly wail, because I was screaming, and I'd never screamed before, not like that. But the wail from her sounded almost like something predestined, like Rachel, deep in her mind, was wailing at some great fear she had always feared.

"Grace, you're scaring the children! You'll wake the neighbors---"

"Get out!" I screamed at him "Get out of here!"

Then I remembered the rear garage door. It opened onto the back yard, and the lock was broken. If he got in there, he would come in through the kitchen door, which I'd left unlocked. I abruptly turned and ran to lock it, and I heard him turn and run as he realized I'd left the back door unlocked.

I heard him race into the garage. He got to the kitchen door just as I did and for a moment we wrestled, with him trying to get in and me trying to hold it closed. He finally jerked the door towards himself so hard that I came with it and bounced off his chest. I fell backward onto the kitchen floor. I heard screaming and didn't know who it was.

"Grace," he began, because he thought I might be hurt. Then I was up on my feet, throwing things at him to drive him back through the door: dish towels, dish cloths, plates, glasses, silverware, the salt and pepper shakers, anything in reach.

Then the door was closed, and I saw the last of my dessert plates explode against the smooth surface. He was gone.

It was hard to write this. I have to stop now.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 008

March 7, 2005

And in the streets, the children screamed;
The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed.
But not a word was spoken;
The church bells all were broken.

The war for Sundays continued. Within a single month, every competitor of Simpsons opened its doors on Sundays from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. We alone remained closed.

And profits dropped. But Simpsons was not a public business. It was owned by the Simpson family. They governed decisions by means of their hand-picked board, mostly family members and a few financial officers who handled loans for the store.

The first losses in profits were determined to be within a range that didn't threaten the store. In fact, it was possible that the losses were temporary. Once the novelty of shopping on Sunday wore off, people might just ignore the department stores on the Lord's Day. Or the expense of staying open might outweigh earnings.

But as the weeks went by and the second quarter started, it became evident that the franchise stores were prospering from opening on Sunday, however marginally, during the slowest quarter of the year. At an executive meeting in April, Mr. Simpson announced in a staff meeting that I had been promoted to Buyer. Everybody applauded, and then we got down to business.

Abraham Stultz spoke right away, as everybody knew he would.

"These profits will expand for the competition as the sales growth expands over the year, Robert," he said to Mr. Simpson. "We are losing ground and sliding down a slippery slope."

"Profits are down only two percent from last year this time," Mr. Simpson said.

"In a year when we should be five percent ahead! We're seven points in the negative for earnings expectations. And you know that!"

The room was crowded, and at this clear rebuke of the head of the store, you could almost hear everybody draw in a breath and hold it. Nobody ever spoke this way in meetings with senior staff present.

"I don't have reason enough to violate my conscience on this, Abraham," Mr. Simpson told him. "Or to ask my people to violate their consciences."

"Listen to me Robert; you have created a nice community of working people here," Mr. Stultz said. "Think about what you might be doing to them if you don't ask them to work on Sunday. If the store slips in sales, we will have to lay people off. And this community of people will be broken up. You have a good business and happy workers. You have to adapt to the times."

"As always you raise excellent points for consideration," Mr. Simpson said. "Thank you. Let's move on."

But it was no surprise, later in the week, when Mr. Simpson scheduled meetings, in groups of 25, with all the staff from the retail floor to poll them on their opinions about working on Sunday.

Anita kept me updated about the people out on the floor. Most preferred not to work on Sunday but offered no real objection if the store chose a seven day schedule. There was a strong but small minority who opposed breaking the Sunday Sabbath. But the store's most experienced floor managers were among that minority. They were Sunday School teachers and youth workers for their churches. Opening on Sundays would devastate ministries they had cultivated for decades.

After all, staying open on Sundays would not effect those of us in the offices. We worked Monday through Friday. It affected our floor people.

The majority of senior staff said we had no choice. But April dragged on, and still Mr. Simpson would not make the decision.

Anita, even though she was merely a minor manager out on the floor, had been with the store for years. She had a grapevine that she used. She told me that the board was pressuring Mr. Simpson to open on Sundays. We heard that some local churches were praying for him in their prayer meetings, and they were praying for God to honor the man who honored him, by giving the store prosperity.

One day before the staff meeting started, somebody told him about the churches that were praying for him. And I heard him say, "God will honor the man who honors Him, but it may not be in the way we want."

I spoke up. "But we should ask Him," I said.

"Grace, if it didn't cost anything to be true to what you believe, then serving God would be the assurance of worldly prosperity," he told me. "And people would follow conscience just to make money off it."

"So you won't open the store on Sundays?" I asked.

He hesitated. "I have to know that it's the right thing to do," he said. "Then I would open the store on Sundays. But these people, our retail staff, many of them, work here simply because they don't have to work on Sunday. They use Sunday to honor God. I'm not ready to take that from them. The store is still profitable."

* * * *

The purchasing cutbacks that ensued as our store stopped expanding its inventory became noticeable. But I had other changes that demanded my attention. As things worked out, Beauchamp left us before Steve and Julie did. He sold his house two days after he put it on the market. And true to his word, he let me have all the glassware, dinnerware, and flatware I wanted for my little place.

Hillary, who started to feel better as April began, orchestrated a magnificent sendoff for Beauchamp. He knew so many people, from the waiters and waitresses down at Shoney's to the mayor of Black Mountain, that it was impossible to have a single dinner in his honor. So Hillary and several friends rented the lobby and dining area of one of the hotels, and we had an open house for him. People left gifts and signed a book of memories for him, paid their respects, and enjoyed a free buffet.

I stayed for the entire event and acted as a hostess, while Beauchamp, immaculate in white shirt, black waistcoat, and tails, bowed and spoke to the people who came to say goodbye to him. Bus drivers, the cashiers from Piggly-Wiggly, prominent lawyers and businessmen, the head of the rescue mission, the staff at the local news stations, the high school debate team, the morning crew from Shoneys, and scores of others, all attended.

Hillary and I both wore evening gowns, and I was surprised, and charmed, when all of the men from the Breakfast Club showed up in tails. Steve, Kazzazz, John, Alf, and a few others from the gym came all decked out in rented finery. Kazzezz, his bulging arms and chest straining against the tight black cloth, looked like he could barely breathe. I wondered how anybody had ever fitted him. He had arms like tree trunks.

They had their photographs taken together with Beauchamp. He did his best to smile broadly, a trick that forever eluded him.

Beauchamp never understood the effortless grins that Americans could flash. He always smiled with his eyes, but otherwise his expressions were subtle. In the group photo, he looked almost silly, with an artificial grin on his face. But in the photo with me, taken by Hillary, his eyes are alight and the rest of his face quiet, the way I will always remember him.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 007

March 6, 2005

Greg surprised me with flowers last night. He's never done that before, except on the usual occasions. Then he told me I've always been the most important woman in his life. Then he dropped the bombshell: he wants another baby.

I was amazed that this is what's been bothering him. I wondered why he would carry on so much over the last few weeks. I've never been adamant that we had to stop at two. In fact, it was Greg who made the decision after Rachel came to stop having children in order to provide for the children we had. I was always willing to have more and let the future take care of itself.

After all, I worked my way through two colleges, and it never hurt me. So I thought it unnecessary to have the children's education completely paid for before they even got to college. But Greg has always been prudent.

But last evening he started crying when he told me how much he loves me and loves to see me with the children and what a good wife and mother I am. He's still not himself, but he's always been a great provider, and as long as he has peace of mind about Baby Three, I have peace of mind as well.

He went off to work late this morning. I've had laundry to do and a million errands. He just called to say he has to stay late again tonight, but he promises that the overtime should end before the month ends. He says that he should get a bonus and maybe we can go off for a weekend to a bed and breakfast. We could leave the children with his sister.

Greg's always pretty glib about leaving the kids with his family. I don't like to impose, but maybe we should. He's been worried about the new Associate VP position that's about to open up. But really, there are three entry engineers in the company. And there's a young woman who does the drafting for them. She comes to work in midriff sweaters and has a diamond chip on the side of her nose. Greg is the only senior engineer.

If the two men who run the place promote from inside the small company, I can't think of anybody else but Greg who's ready for the position. But it seems to be worrying him a lot. He's hardly been himself.

Still, on with the story!

The coffee place was tucked inside an upscale strip mall in Asheville. Only after I had coffee and Beauchamp had hot tea and we had secured a table to ourselves, did he speak about the "changes in the wind."

"Steven's announcement truly amazed Beauchamp," he said quietly. For the cold Saturday shopping he wore his long black wool coat and the light gray hat, which now sat with his short cane and gloves on the chair next to him. Saturday or not, he still dressed with his customary European meticulousness and style. He was wearing cufflinks. The day would not come when Beauchamp failed to dress as an educated gentleman before the world at large, where ever he encountered it.

"What was that idea you told me about," I said. "Change is constant?"

He nodded. "Yes. Time is a river without banks. All is change. There is no holding on; no going back. We can only move forward."

He had sparkling dark eyes that carried most of his expression, for he rarely smiled and never showed any strong emotion with his voice. He lifted his eyes and I saw that he was sad.

"What is it, Mr. Beauchamp?"

"My elder son has called upon me, dear Grace. He reminds me of many things I put away when my wife passed away."

"I thought you sold your house over there?"

"He reminds me of my duties, Grace. He wants me to come home."

"Home?" I asked. "This is your home now."

He hesitated and then said, "No, dear. Even with you, my American friend, this is not home. I have two sons. Now they have children. I have hurt them by this distance. I will only hurt them more if I stay here. I must go and be a good father and a good grandpapa."

For a long moment we only looked at each other. "Will you come back here? To visit?" I asked.

"I will always want to, Grace."

I looked down.

His voice continued: "But the boys must have their due. They will want me and my time."

I kept my eyes on the tabletop. Hilary herself had warned me months before that Beauchamp was hiding from his own past. But a good woman could make a man brave by respecting and admiring him. She had told me that. She and others had said that I had changed Mr. Beauchamp, helped him.

But now that he had become brave, a huge gap opened up in front of me. No more happy lunches and conversations. No more learning. And worst of all, Mr. Beauchamp really was only an ordinary man, haunted by his own fears, unable to live up to his own ideals of being a "rational theist." But I pushed that thought away. He had been kind and generous with me.

"Mr. Beauchamp, I really don't know what I'll do without you."

"If that is so, then I have not been a good teacher to you. For I should have told you from the beginning that all life changes. You must try to adapt to change."

I even felt a flicker of annoyance with him. He hadn't adapted to change very well. He had, quite literally, run away from home when his wife died. Maybe he knew the thought that crossed my mind.

"We shall always have this great friendship in our hearts, dear Grace," he said. "I have never had the delight of a young person---a young woman---who has so listened to me and pondered the ideas that I discovered and treasured."

He paused. "Would you have me stay, knowing that I have abandoned my children?" he asked. "I don't think you would."

"No, of course not." But I still couldn't look at him.

"My own frailty has caused pain to many people, and now to you," he said. "And for that, I am very sorry. For you deserve to be happy. You are a fine young woman and a friend whose every action has been praise worthy."

Then I looked up at him. "No, it is life," I told him. "A part of life." I hesitated. "You've enlarged my mind," I said without thinking.

"You have enlarged my soul."

He was always so kind, but this declaration startled me, and I stared at him. "Now I have the strength to go home, to face all the places I dreaded to see again," he said. "If I find you have worked this change in me simply because you are a beautiful young woman I shall feel a fool. But I think it was more than that."

"What was it then?" I whispered.

"You have given me a beautiful demonstration that knowledge must unfold, Grace. But how can I know anything until I take the risk to learn? You have been an excellent student, and you have taught me all over again to continue to learn. I must learn to live the life I tried to leave behind. I must be brave about all things and expect to see the wisdom of the Providence that guides us."

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Monday, January 23, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 006

March 5, 2005

At the Breakfast club the next morning, the windows at Shoney's were foggy from the hot food inside and the crowded tables. But we had our weekly table reserved. I was still on Christmas break from night school, so I felt energetic and cheerful.

Steve, his wife Julie, the red haired and fair skinned John, the dark haired and dark skinned Kazzazz, middle-aged Alf and Cindy Rogers, the small and dapper Beauchamp, and I crowded around our dishes from the breakfast bar.

"Julie and I have something to tell you," Steve said as we passed the salt and pepper, sugar, and hot peppers back and forth.

"Speak up or get drowned out," Alf said with a smile.

"You better listen," Kazzazz said gently. He and Steve were the best of friends. We all looked at Steve.

"There's a small church up in Camden New Jersey---" Steve began.

"Camden!" Cindy exclaimed in horror. "Camden New Jersey? That's a drug haven!"

"Well not all of it, but yes they have their problems," Steve said. Cindy already knew what he was going to say. I should have guessed, but it never crossed my mind.

"I signed on here to learn the ropes," Steve said. "Julie's been patient, but we always thought we were called to the Northeast. It's a hard, cold place that needs the love of God."

"You're going there?" I asked. I was stunned.

Steve glanced at his wife. Julie, by the way, was what people called "a sturdy wife." She always encouraged Steve, always spoke highly of him, always kept their tiny mobile home spotless, always cooked the Polish food that he had grown up eating, always worked in concert with him. She was plain and tall, with huge brown eyes as her one beauty. Her nose, like Steve's had an extra curve in it from being broken when she went face first off a bicycle as a little girl. She and Steve had very little use for beauty. They preferred fun. They had fun together, and where ever they went, fun followed. They played games with their children: hide and seek in that tiny mobile home, or tag outside, or keep-away when Julie needed the salt for cooking and Steve would pass it off to four year old Jacob who would pass it off to two year old Juliette and all of them laugh as Julie fussed at them.

"Steve, Camden is an incredibly impoverished and crime-ridden place," Cindy said. "Have you gone up there to look it over?"

He nodded. "I preached there two Sunday nights ago, Cindy, and I stayed and preached the next Wednesday. It's a bad place with some very godly people who aren't willing to give up on their neighbors. Julie and I---" And he took her hand. "Think we should go."

Cindy said nothing after that. But she had a stricken look in her eyes. I got the impressions that Steve and Julie were going to the gates of Hell to pastor a church.

"We love the people up there already," Julie said quietly. "They need a permanent pastor."

"They need somebody who won't run out on them," Steve said. "Julie can make a home out of nothing. We can live with the poverty."

Alf took his wife's hand, the way a gentle husband quiets his wife's objections. "All right, Steve, Julie. You've always been careful and circumspect. We'll pray for you to prosper up there. When do you leave?"

"A month," Steve said. "Four weeks exactly."

"We'll miss you," John said.

"We may decide to go with you," Kazzazz added. He laughed when he said it, but I knew he meant it. Steve and Julie were good friends with Kazzazz and his wife.

Beauchamp never sat right next to me at the Saturday morning breakfasts. We always downplayed our friendship, even well after everybody knew we were friends. From across the table, he nodded at me, a signal that we should speak in private afterward.

For the rest of the breakfast, everybody talked about Camden and what Steve and Julie had seen of it. The tiny church up there had already provided living quarters for them in what Steve called a "mixed" neighborhood. At first we all through the meant a racially mixed neighborhood. But he really meant a neighborhood on the border of the drug territories. Some houses were used by dealers and some were occupied by decent, blue collar families. All kinds of deals had been offered to Steve to get a pastor and his family onto the block, as it was seen by the locals as a means of reclaiming the neighborhood. "All kinds of opportunities," Steve said as we stood to go back to the breakfast bar.

"All kinds of trouble, too," Kazzazz said. "But you were born for trouble, Steve."

John had needed a ride from me because his car was in the shop over the weekend. But I asked Kazzazz to give him a lift home. John shot me a look of disappointment when I told him Kazzazz would drop him off. So, I thought, John really had been angling for time with me. Hillary would be so pleased. But I was amazed. I really thought John was out of my league for anything beyond two friends going out together to see The Messiah or a play.

In my twenties, after several months diligent work in a gym, I was slim, strong, and a size seven. My job at Simpsons gave me an inside track on sales and bargains for terrific clothes that were well made and attractive. But I had only average looks: brown eyes and blondish hair that John had once called the color of clover honey, but that I also called "dirty blonde". Not golden enough to be really blonde, but light enough brown to keep trying to pass itself off as blonde. I was only average, and John was outright handsome.

Beauchamp was waiting for me after I said goodbye to John and Kazzazz. "Shall we go shopping as you like to do?" he asked.

"Yes, is everything all right?" I asked him.

"Change is in the wind, dear Grace. But we shall find bargains first."

I always had a list of things I needed. Only a few months before I'd moved into a huge old house in town. It had been divided into neat little apartments, still in view of the mountains. But the paper thin walls allowed almost all noise to pass through, and my neighbor appeared to be enamored of Jesus Christ Superstar, which I loathed. He played it at full volume, over and over again. So I was always looking for music to play in my headphones to drown out the noise through the walls.

We went to the grocery store and I picked out all my groceries. And then we visited the music store so I could look over the selections of second hand CDs. After that, we took a quick trip to the Dollar Store. Beauchamp hated the Dollar store. He said it smelled, but I always found good bargains there, especially on housewares.

But that day when I found useful six-piece sets of glasses, he insisted that I not buy them. He practically forbad me from one purchase after another, though it was January and sales were great. And my new place needed housewares.

"You shall have as many glasses, dishes, and plates as you like," he promised me. "And all better than these. Come, let us find that coffee store you like so well. What is it, Barry's?"

"Barnie's," I told him. This was before Starbucks, and Barnie's with their light, aromatic blends of coffee, had taken the southeast by storm. Everybody who was anybody hung out at the local Barnie's sooner or later in the week.

"You really do have something to tell me," I said as we walked out to his car in the chilly Saturday morning.

"Yes, but nothing that cannot wait until you have coffee in your hand, dear Grace," he said.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 005

March 4, 2005

Hillary's house sat near the summit of the mountain. On the outside, it looked like an ordinary but attractive cottage. But it went further back into the trees than was apparent, so that when you stepped inside you entered a bright, expansive country home, with light colored woods and cheerful braided rugs, wool throws, and every comfort imaginable, all in a place that felt like home.

When I knocked on Hillary's door that night, she appeared in her robe and let me in. The cough that she'd had for months was worse again. It never went away, even after rounds and rounds of antibiotics. She insisted that once spring came she would be right as rain.

"The winter has settled in my chest," she told me as she led me inside. "Oh dear, I am so tired. Do you mind cooking, Grace?"

"Not at all." My cooking was never equal to Hillary's but I could turn out canned soup very well.

"I've been in bed all day. No energy. But I'm so glad to see another soul," she said. She settled onto the sofa and I covered her with one of the many comfortable throws that decorated the sofas and chairs. Then I explored her refrigerator. She had a rice pilaf mix and plenty of veggies, so I cooked up stir fry for us. My own mother had always kept me away from bread and milk when I had a cough, and I followed her example. And Hillary's appetite was certainly healthy enough.

I had to remind myself that Hillary was the same age as Anita and my own mother. Not that Hillary ever said her age. But she had two children who were older than I, both actors trying to get a break: one in New York and one in Hillary's natal town of London.

Face lifts, constant dieting, and more homeopathic and natural remedies I'd ever seen before all kept Hillary in a nether world between teenager and middle-aged mother. She wore jeans that were a size or two smaller than my own, kept her hair colored light brown with blond streaks, and usually moved with boundless energy and enthusiasm.

"You know, when you crash, you crash all the way," I told her as I settled on the floor with my back against the sofa where she lay.

"I'll call that doctor up and give him a good piece of my mind," she said. "He's supposed to get me better."

"Doctor who?"

"No, Jenkins, down in Asheville. Oh and it's so far. So much trouble to go. Don't do the dishes now, Grace. Let's watch something."

So I turned on the VCR and we watched Double Indemnity.

"Oh and that young man John called to see if you would be here tonight," Hillary said while, on the screen, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray were eying each other up and down and plying each other with double entendres.

It just figured that the thought of matchmaking would revive Hillary. She didn't take marriage seriously for herself, and both children had been born between husbands in her multi-stage marital history. Yet she lived in the hope that I would find a "sincere young man" and settle down, forever happy like a character from a fairy tale.

"Did he really say he wanted to know if I'd be here?" I asked.

"No, what he said was that he wanted to remind you to pick him up before the gym tomorrow because his car is in the shop," she said. "But he was really calling to get a chance to talk to you."

Barbara Stanwyck was telling Fred MacMurray how unkind her husband was, and I wanted to listen to it, but Hillary said in a singsong voice, "John likes you, Grace!" Then she coughed into her hand.

"Hillary, John has dated every girl in that church," I told her. "I am not going to date him. We're just trophies to him. He dates a girl for a few months and then gets rid of her. Well not this girl."

"But you have to date to know if you should marry," she said. "He's not willing to settle until he finds the right one."

"The odds alone say I'm not the right one."

"Oh, you pessimist!"

"We had one date, and while we were sitting in a concert, I had this great spiritual revelation," I told her.

"The Messiah?" she asked.

"Yes, when he took me to The Messiah. John thinks I'm a girl who has visions or something."

"Even a girl who has visions needs a good man. He may have figured that out by now."

"Hmm, only been two months---"

"Oh, you're impossible!"

I liked John enormously. He was the most handsome man I'd ever dated. But I didn't want to admit it to anybody. I really doubted that John would fall in love with me. A serious dating relationship just didn't seem like a good idea, because I didn't want to lose his friendship.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 004

March 3, 2005

Greg says he's not mad at me, but he's busy doing other things. I don't know what's gotten into him, but this isn't the time to ask.

Still, I want to write about what happened after college. I learned the hard way that salvation and sanctification alike are born of the grace of God. And here's how:

By the time I was 24, I was an assistant Buyer at Simpsons. I worked "upstairs," in the small office suite behind the retail floor. I had a savings plan and a pension plan and knew people who had worked at the store for 30 years. I traveled several times a year, attended shows, meetings, and seminars.

Asheville was building up, and even Black Mountain had increased its population. South of us, Greenville's metro area was beefing up for a new BMW plant, and Michelin and BMW had both donated huge grants to the local technical college to spruce up its academics. Up in the mountains, we caught some of the overflow of the beneficence. More tourists and visitors came for weekends.

We launched successful campaigns to bring visitors into the store, and the Ad department sent newspaper inserts as far away as Greenville and Spartanburg to coax buyers to come to the mountains for weekend junkets.

In January of that year, I thought Simpsons was good for another 50 years at least.

But then the Blue Laws were, once and for all, revoked.

Everybody had been buzzing about it for months. The Carolinas subscribed to exceptionally strict Blue Laws, forbidding stores to be open on Sunday. These lasted for decades after the stores in other states started to open on Sunday. Local people challenged the laws continually until at last the state dropped them back to a local matter.

Pressure built within our community for the malls and stores to open on Sundays. As a community we were losing money, they said, because customers were going to other cities for weekend jaunts where they could shop both Saturday and Sunday. Gatlinburg, not far to the west, had hotels and outlet stores. Greenville and Spartanburg were modernizing as well and offering bed and breakfasts with access to outlets.

Simpsons had a huge churchgoing work force. We didn't want to be open on Sunday. Some people argued for the Sabbath, but others argued on a more modern basis for the practical necessity of letting people worship.

Compromises were proposed. The malls would not open until 1:00, allowing Christians to worship, and nobody could be forced to work on Sunday of it violated their conscience, nor could they be fired.

The news cameras invaded the stores; there were flame wars on the editorial pages of the newspapers long before they were invented on the internet.

In executive staff meetings, for weeks, the issue came up at every meeting.

"This store has always honored the Sabbath," Mr Simpson said on the first meeting of the new year, when we went into our customary slump and sell off period. "I am not ready to abandon my thanksgiving to God merely because of bad press and a few dollars."

He stood at the head of the huge exec table, crowded with buyers, accounting staff, and others. The staff was so numerous that it was standing room only, and men in ties and jackets, women in business outfits and heels, stood against the walls. Seating at the table was full.

"This is all well and good," Abraham Stultz, one of the most senior buyers and a tremendous friend to Mr. Simpson said. He had a place at the table. "But we're not all Christians, you know. And we Jewish people, we invented the Sabbath!"

The comment sounded light hearted, but it stunned Mr. Simpson. "Abraham, I have never asked you to work on a Saturday," Mr. Simpson said.

"No, of course not. But I come in when I have to, Robert," he said. "Saturday or not. And you know that I will if I have to. Don't excuse good people from the same responsibility. The ox is in the ditch as you say. You may have to ask people to work for five hours on a Sunday."

Mr Simpson shook his head. "It hasn't come to that. We had an extremely profitable Christmas." And several people nodded.

But Stultz, who had worked at the store as a young man when Mr. Simpson's own father had been living and managed the place, said, "You are living on the plateau. It's beautiful and perfect up here. Now. But look higher. Look around. We're hedged in, and we can't get out."

Nobody understood what he was saying. He looked around the table at all of us. Abraham Stultz had a high forehead, with long wrinkles across it, and the last vestiges of short, wavy hair at his temples and around his head like a tonsure.

"Retail is not about what happens now, young people," he told us. Back in those days, senior management often addressed the whole group that way. "Retail is about two years from now. We are in very great danger, as a business unit. Bankruptcy is staring us in the face."

Several people gasped. We were rolling in money, I thought, with more customers coming in than ever before.

One or two people murmured disagreement loudly enough for Mr. Stultz to hear. But this was never tolerated at Simpsons. "Come to order," Mr. Simpson said. I raised my hand, and at his nod I stood up.

"Mr. Stultz," I said. "I know you're right to warn us of the future, but even the retail experts are saying that we're in a sellers market right now and it will speed up again by summer sales. Can you point us to some type of indicator or documentation that supports what you're saying?"

I sat down. He inclined his head to me and didn't bother to stand, but he never did. "Miss Jovian, you always ask the best questions. I wish that I could open a report that says 'In two years the bottom will fall out.' I can't, young lady. I base my conclusions on two things: an advantage that other stores will have to acquire our customers through Sunday sales if we do not stay competitive; and the emergence of new competitors. We have been guilty of standing still in an evolving marketplace."

All eyes turned to Mr. Simpson. He looked truly troubled and even hurt that Mr. Stultz had been so candid in an open meeting. But he said, "Abraham, your opinion is always valuable. I'll take everything you say into account, and I want to meet with you directly after this. But I cannot violate my conscience or ask my people to violate theirs on a danger that is two years away. We may find another way."

The meeting progressed to other topics from there. But later I had lunch with Anita, one of the floor managers, and her friend Helen. Each was old enough to be my mother. Helen may have qualified for grandmother. I'd known Anita since my first day as a manager trainee. She was a Christian, a Southern Baptist, and she was praying we would stay closed on Sundays.

They were both curious about the meeting. I didn't tell them everything, but I did tell them of Abraham Stultz's prediction.

"Well he's Jewish, so he doesn't understand," Helen said.

Anita, her large brown eyes fixed on her coffee, added gently, "He told me once he liked working with such a religious work force. He came out of New York as a young man, and it was already horrible up there."

"But God can keep this store in business," Helen told her. "We don't have to worry like other folks do."

Anita shot one glance, gentle, at her friend. She looked at me. "What do you think about what he said, Grace?"

"I don't know. I come from a long line of doomsayers," I told them. "I'm used to predictions of destruction that never come true."

"But?" Anita prompted me.

"Did you ever read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books?" I asked.

Anita nodded and Helen said, "My grandchildren read them."

"There's a scene at the beginning of The Long Winter, where an Indian comes into the general store and warns the towns people that a savage winter is coming, and they don't know what he's talking about."

"Did you think of that today?" Anita asked.

I nodded. "The Indian was proved right. I keep remembering that, but all the signs are good for the store right now."

"It's a good cautionary tale," Anita said. "We should pray for Mr. Simpson to have wisdom and foresight." She smiled at me: after years of rearing her own children and working nearly every week of her life, Anita still had beautiful eyes, unmarred by age. "Everything will work out for the best."

I nodded, and for the moment my fears were allayed.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 003

March 2 2005

Well, Greg certainly didn't like the idea of visiting Amy Carmichael and Jim! We very nearly had a fight. After I write this entry I will go apologize to him. Whenever we fight, it's usually my fault. Not that he cannot do really aggravating things: he can. But I usually over react.

Anyway, I want to tell my story in proper order. In my last journal the Standard Christian blog, I left off on a happy note. I had made friends with the beautiful, youthful, and engaging Hillary, a former movie and television actress who settled in the Asheville area to stay sober and work with community theater. Some of the people at my church hated her because she'd once posed nude in a magazine. But she'd been so kind to me and was so tolerant and generous that friendship was inevitable.

I worked at Simpsons Department store, run by the Simpson family, and within my first year I was made a manager and was on my way to becoming a buyer. Mr. Simpson, a Reformed Episcopal man in a conservative congregation, amazed me because he was not Baptist but was a godly Christian man. Certainly, the tone he set at Simpsons was one of kindness, hard work, honesty, and hospitality to our customers.

But my very best friend was Mr. Beauchamp, the town's local and beloved eccentric. Twenty years my senior, he tutored me in my math classes from night school, took me to the theater, and gave me books as presents for my birthday and Christmas.

He never once set foot inside my house, and I visited his house only in the company of others. It was through him that I learned the art of what Hillary called "Café Friendships." We both "went out" to meet each other: always looking our best, with our thoughts carefully marshaled, our conversation polite and focused on literature, history, and theology.

Beauchamp did belong to the same gym where I worked out, as he was under doctor's orders to walk four miles a week to strengthen his heart and circulation. He was a neat and meticulous man who hated to sweat. But he believed in good sense and preventive health care. So he obediently, with fixed expression and eyes showing mild disgust, trudged away for 30 minutes twice a week on the gym's treadmills, mopping the perspiration from his round, bald head as he walked. His doctor rewarded him by assigning another two miles per week.

Every Saturday morning, he and I joined the "Breakfast Club" from the gym, a group made up mostly of Christians from the local Pentecostal church. They talked over the Bible and theology. Steve Pickle, our unofficial leader, was an assistant pastor at the church and a man who could think through any discussion and discuss, with references, what the Bible said in light of the topic. Steve sported a battered nose from a youth spent in boxing, and I often wondered if the Pentecostal "seminary" he'd attended was not as bad as my own alma mater, GIBC. But he studied the Bible passionately.

Beauchamp was what Steve called a "theistic rationalist." But there was no enmity between them. Indeed, Beauchamp acted as mentor to Steve when he could and directed him to notable authors from the past and classic literature both inside and outside of Christianity. Steve, who was married to Julie, was a kind of hero and role model to Kazzazz and his wife, both avid weight lifters and recent Christians, and John Ohara, another recent convert and a member of the gym. Our oldest Christian members of the Breakfast Club were Alfred and Cindy Rogers. They were Presbyterians who preferred Steve's church to their own. But to my horror and amazement, they were Calvinists. I got over my revulsion in short order, for they were kind, likeable people.

We made a noisy and happy group at Shoney's every Saturday morning. We talked Bible, philosophy, and literature. I attended night school back then to get a real college degree. As more semesters went by, I participated more in the breakfast discussions, always encouraged by Beauchamp and always forced by my own friends to think.

Until I married Greg, years later, those were the happiest days of my life. In secret from my Baptist parents, I joined the Pentecostal church and stayed busy with a sort of happy, good works philosophy. I spent my energy on school, work, exercise, and church work. I had more and more money as time went by and my job status improved. I had happy fellowship on church nights, excited, engaging conversation on Saturday mornings, encouraging dinners and lunches with Beauchamp, and cozy evenings with Hillary when she would make supper for me and we would watch black and white movies.

It all started to go bad when Steve and Julie Pickle left us. You never realize how some people are lynch pins until the lynch pin is pulled out all of a sudden.

Oh, I hear Greg's car in the garage. He's just come back and I want to go make up with him.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 002

March 1, 2005

Just got a letter from Cinnabar. She has so many blocking agents on her computer that she still prints off snail mails to me and sends them via post:

Dear Grace,

Here are snaps of my two sunbeams, Josh and Joy. Joy Grace has taken her first steps. Doug holds her up by her hands and starts her off, and she staggers towards me, laughing as I encourage her, and shakily making each step in her sturdy white shoes. She can go about six steps before plopping down. Sometimes she claps her hands together as I encourage her to come to me.

I am just like you now! I pray for the children as I fold their laundry. Doug and I are using the manipulative toys to teach little Josh the foundations of arithmetic. We let him go at his own pace, playing with the cardboard pie pieces or arranging the plastic "popsicle sticks". But yesterday he showed us how to go from a hexagon to an octagon. He didn't bother with a seven-sided figure in between. Doug says he understands symmetry. His mind sees an order of progression in the symmetrical figures and discards the others. I've given birth to a geometrist! I can't believe he'll be five next month.

On the more practical front, Josh wants to know when he will be big enough to ride a bicycle, and he wants a cap gun. Do you let Benjamin play with toy guns?

I go in to the office for about ten hours a week and work the rest from home. They wanted me to become a project manager, but I said no. In fact, I wanted to resign and just be a full time mother, but Doug said he and I both have a responsibility to our country. We hate this war, but our work contributes to the safety of the American public as a nation. It is amazing how people with very low resources can find new means to distort signals so that our satellites misinterpret or miss information.

It wouldn't be right for me to bail out on this project just because I find Josh and little Joy to be far more rewarding than these endless algorithmic calculations.

I never get to see missiles launched or lasers directed at targets. All I ever see are curves on a grid. Calculus and Physics really are not the hilarious party that most people think they are!

Love,
Cinn


Cinnabar, herself a survivor of the Sonrise homes, has blossomed in a way very different from Amy Carmichael. I hear from Amy Carmichael only infrequently now. Amy Carmichael and Jim live in Northern Pennsylvania, up in hilly country where people still leave their doors unlocked at night. I got a letter from her this past Christmas, updating me on the children. They have four boys and one girl, and their oldest son, James Junior, is 15 years old! I feel so old when I realize that my roommate from my senior year has a child who will get his driver's license next year.

They sent out a family photo: Jim and all his sons in navy blue suits, white shirts, and dark ties, and Amy Carmichael and little Rose Sharon in matching dresses. Amy Carmichael still has the wide-eyed beauty she had in school, but after five children she is rounder, her hair simply pulled back in a loose pony tail that flatters her face but is just as simple as anything she wore back at GIBC.

We're the same age, but I can still fit into the jeans I wore ten years ago. I have my hair cut and styled by "Jenisse," and I own more shoes than I should. The Christmas letter that Amy Carmichael and Jim sent out was a form letter, but she wrote in ink at the bottom, "I miss you and our cheerful phone conversations. There is never enough time. Our love to Greg and the children."

Greg and I used to drive up to Pennsylvania once a year to see Amy Carmichael and Jim. I'll mention it to him. Benjamin and Rachel are old enough to not need constant care, and I would like to see my old friends again. After all, Jim gave me away at my wedding!

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Monday, January 16, 2006

 

Grace Triumphant 001

February 28, 2005

I can't remember if I cried,
When I read about his widowed bride.
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

Oh there's that song again. It plays every February. Everybody says it's about the death of JFK or the death of Richy Valens. It's about a young man's loss of his faith. And it's set against the Fundamentalist myths of the 1970's, including the rapture myth of the time, when we believed that the Soviet Union would invade the rest of the world as "Gog and magog reconstructed." How quickly the Fundamentalists forget their own myths. Well, Don Maclean may have lost his faith while listening to preachers vent on the Red Menace and Rock music, but I escaped with mine, just barely.

Greg just called to say he's working late tonight. This has happened a lot lately. I don't like it, and it's not what we agreed upon when he went with this company last year. But he says the slot for Associate V.P. will open soon, and he is positioned to get it. If he's passed over, he'll lose ground and lose opportunity.

I understand that. There's still a lot of macho in these small engineering firms, and men hold their ground by the impression they make. He has to be a "heavy hitter" to stay with the firm and stay on the rise.

So I will write tonight. I have at least one perk: Greg gave me my own laptop computer for my birthday a few months ago. It's one of those minis, with a plug-in case that has a swappable DVD player and swappable floppy drive. It's so small and light that I can take it anywhere.

Ten-year old Benjamin just came in to let me know he's praying that God will send us a dog. As always, he's recruited his little sister Rachel to join him. Ben has worked out how to make Christianity get him everything he wants. In January he theorized that if he never did his homework but had faith, he would pass all his tests. He kept this theory to himself in order to astound us with his theological acumen when report cards came out. It bitterly disappointed him when things didn't work out that way, and we made him catch up.

However, as far as the dog goes, I want one too. There's a woman down the street, Terri, who has an Anatolian Shepherd named Tahlia. Tahlia looks like a German Shepherd except she is cream and black instead of brown and black. She's gentle and protective. We had thunder on a warm day a few weeks ago as Terri and I were visiting in my front yard, and Tahlia kept nudging Benjamin and Rachel towards the house with her nose. When the thunder cracked unexpectedly, she ran towards it across the yard, barking. Then she came up to me and leaned against my legs until her sheer weight forced me back a step, closer to my door. Terri scolded her. "Tahlia, stop that!"

"Is she afraid?" I asked.

"She's trying to get you to go into the house," Terri said. "To protect you."

Benjamin and Rachel were charmed by this remarkable dog, and so was I. I never had a dog while growing up because we moved around too much, and my evangelist father thought they were too much trouble. A big dog in a little house only made it look smaller, he said. And little dogs were a nuisance to him. "Dogs for fags," he called them.

Greg grew up with a house full of sisters and lots of pets. But he thinks dogs are too dirty and too smelly; and, he told me, the husband always ends up doing all the "dirty work."

"And by dirty work, I'm thinking of a word that begins with P, Poopsy," he told me.

Greg does like a clean, orderly, and quiet home. And he asks so little that I've never nagged about getting a dog. But the children have their hearts set on having one exactly like Tahlia. And Terri, who is a vet, accidentally offended Greg a couple weeks ago when she told him she could get us an Anatolian Shepherd at a very low price.

My good natured husband is so rarely offended that he surprised me later when he said he wished our neighbor down the street would just mind her own business. He never talks like that, and he never is offended. In fact, in the past when we've had arguments and I've really wanted to needle him, I always found him too good natured to offend. If Greg has taught me anything, it's how to laugh off what others say.

I think the pressure of the job is getting to him. He does seem very different lately.

Anyway, speaking of not letting others bother me, I've received e-mails about my last two stories! I was thrilled when people I'd gone to school with at GIBC (Greater Indiana Baptist College-God's School for You) wrote to compare notes with my experiences and remind me of things I had left out of my first narrative. And former students (I should say inmates) of the Sonrise homes have written as well.

But not everything has been praise. Here's a real gem from a man who knew my adulterous father, Evangelist George Jovian:


You may be saved, but you are no Christian. There is a difference between the two. You are as phony as you claim those great men of God are. There are qualities that the scriptures teach for godly womanhood and you lack everyone! You are a vindictive, bitter, petty, little soul. To be quite frank, I find you to be mentally unstable, and it is most likely that you are troubled with lesbian temptations. In fact, femi-nazi women like you mostly are lesbians.

Do you think any man would approve of his daughters saying things in the manner and spirit of Grace Jovian? I trow not.


"Trow not?" Greg asked when he saw it. "Did he get lost on the stage of a Shakespeare play?

"I trow not," I told him slyly and ducked when he threw a pillow at me.

I do get emails like these and find them in the comment sections of my blogs, most often from Fundamentalist pastors, but they are a minority. Greg laughed at them at first and then installed an extensive e-mail filter on my system. It deletes e-mail from any sender I specify, or it forces unknown senders to ask my permission to get a letter through the cue. Men who are accusing me up and down of being a harlot, a feminist, a lesbian, a man-hater, etc., either get deleted unseen or slink off rather than ask my permission to be read.

One request I often get from readers is to share how Greg and I fell in love. I will tell the story, but it's doomed to disappoint. Greg had one bad marriage to an adulterous wife behind him when we met. And I was shell-shocked from all the abuses I had suffered in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches (and then a Pentecostal church that started well and went bad). We were both in our very late twenties and neither of us wanted to hurt another person or be hurt.

By then I had given up on church. Attending church was a necessity for Greg, who has always been the better Christian of the two of us. We were honest with each other, and he was patient. Greg has told me since then that he knew from the start I would always be faithful to my husband. So even when he was discouraged about how much I disliked and feared church, he wanted to demonstrate to me that church wasn't necessarily bad and cultish.

But our "romance" was more like a re-education for the both of us as we tried to measure if marriage would work for us. I loved how steady and dependable and patient he was. Greg was the first man who wanted to hear everything I was thinking. I always treated him with great care and respect because I knew he wanted me to communicate with him.

Over time, I started attending church with him, and he learned to cope with my late father, who always lorded it over him that he'd been married before.

But all the stars and candlelight and romance came after marriage for me. How I loved Greg before we married and how I came to love him after are almost two different things. I remember waking up one morning a few weeks after our first anniversary and realizing I truly had married the best man in the entire world. He had given me an incredible stability; he had made me happy; he had saved my faith in God.

I wish he was home now.

But I'm babbling too much. I'll write more tomorrow.

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