The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed because, well, let’s face it: none of us is exactly what one might call innocent. And why should we need to be?
Friday, Joe. June 9, 2017. 12:31 PM. I snag two tickets for a matinee screening of Wonder Woman. Douglas Moreland rendezvouses with me at 12:33. I know this because I have text messages to prove it.
The event is noteworthy for many reasons:
- I don’t see many Superhero movies. The last one was Batman Begins, which struck me as the work of a mildly deranged filmmaker. The other of the three was Iron Man. This tells you a lot about me. The appeal of the genre mystifies me.
- I don’t see many movies with Douglas. I believe this was the first. He might correct me. I might be wrong.
- I have known Douglas a long time, but not by that name. For most of his life he has been called Joel.
- I agreed to see Wonder Woman on the strength of recommendations from people whose cinematic opinions I trust. I was not impressed by the trailers.
- I get to type the word rendezvouses twice in the same day. Truly remarkable. I have proof of this, given that I have remarked on it. See above.
Through most of the film, I was thinking things along the lines of:
- The movie itself doesn’t scream, “strong, original, female vision.” It screams, “hand-me down tropes and values from patriarchal Greece.”
- No way in hell a guy would wear something like that outfit into battle. Even the Romans covered up a bit more skin and protected both the thighs and the shins.
- I am amazed that kindergartners are seeing movies like this, much less finding inspiration from them.
- The movie itself doesn’t scream, “strong, original, female vision.” It screams, “hand-me down tropes and values from patriarchal Greece.”
- I was hoping for something that reflected a more 21st Century perspective. But hey…I’m straight from the patriarchal culture that I’m critiquing, so I don’t have a leg to stand on, so to speak, much less a seat at the table (to mix metaphors, though I must point out that tables also have legs).
Nonetheless, as the interminable battle with Ares, well, failed to terminate, I found myself thinking about the strength of not Diana “Prince” but Gal Godot. She really looks like she could do just about everything Wonder Woman does… barring that weird power burst thing, leaping over tall buildings, and managing to block about twelve thousand bullets with two bracelets. But I bet in real life she’d do those things dressed more sensibly.
That’s not really a digression. Because that thought led me to compare my impressions of Gal Gadot with my impressions of one Jennifer Cram circa 1997-1998. I saw the same toughness in her, too, and the same kind of power which really didn’t seem to be dictated by what the men around her were thinking or doing.
Most of all, I reflected: Huh. Those things aside, I don’t think I’ve ever known someone–male or female–in whom I detected a stronger sense of “becoming” than Jenn, who is now my wife. And it’s not even close. Jenn has always been on the verge of some major sea change, and we’ve gone through six or seven seas in the intervening years. The sense of becoming is still strong with this one, as Yoda might say.
Remember this point.
Saturday, June 10. 8:24 AM. While we shower (is that TMI?) I recount to Jenn my observations regarding Gal Godot and Wonder Woman. She agrees that her transformations have been many and profound. She wishes that they had been less painful.
12:32 PM. We leave home on the way to meet my folks and my sister Elane for a celebration of Mom’s and Dad’s 80th birthdays. I have booked the bluff picnic shelter at Saltwater State Park for a barbecue lunch. But the potato salad I had planned to bring is a bust. Instead, we make a detour to B&E Meats downtown to pick up some potato salad.
12:36 PM. We arrive at B&E. It’s a busy day and all the parking spots at the storefront are full. Instead, we have to park in front of Flora Laura, the nearby florist shop. On the sidewalk in front of the shop, Laura has an “antique” bike parked. As I pull in, I remark to Jenn, “Hey–that looks just like my old bike. Same color scheme and everything!” I look closer, and it is even the same brand and make: a Raleigh 3-speed.
After I pick up the potato salad, I take a closer look at the bike because it has a custom headlight generator on the rear wheel, just like the one I had put on mine. Uh…
Wait, now. This isn’t “just like” my old Raleigh… it is my old Raleigh! The only bicycle I ever owned as a kid, which I rode all over Tukwila, Riverton Heights, McMicken Heights, Seatac, and Des Moines. The one I rode off jumps in our back yard. The one I slammed into the back of a VW bug in the Highway 99 McDonald’s parking lot because I was distracted by long flowing hair and swaying hips. Bent the fork on that one, and gashed my chin on the grill. The front fender on the Raleigh is still crinkled from that collision.
Laura’s sister Julie Rex Linehan, an old friend and churchmate of ours, is inside the shop with her baby Poppy, and tells us that Laura had picked up the bike at an estate sale just a few weeks ago.
When that bike went to the thrift store around 1986, I of course never expected to see it again… much less just down the road from where I live. Crazy. This is starting to feel like one of those “sit up and take notice” sorts of days.
12:53 PM. Even after that unexpected distraction, we still are the first to show up at Saltwater. I haul the gear up to the shelter while Jenn manages to limp along. Her hips, newly diagnosed with osteoarthritis, are killing her.
12:59 PM. Elane arrives with Mom and Dad. Mom isn’t sure if she’s ever been to this part of Saltwater Park before, even though her cousin Pauline lived for decades just three doors north of the park entrance. Dad tells her, yes–we have been to this picnic shelter before. This was where the Whalley family picnic was held once when Elane was quite little, and got lost. Elane laughs as, you know, only Elane can.
1:12 PM. After getting the briquettes started, I discover I have brought everything with us… but the hotdogs themselves. Fortunately, we only live 1o minutes away on foot, five minutes away by foot and car. While I am gone, Jenn tries to tell Mom and Elane about how upset she is that our good friends the Trondsons are moving to Minnesota. Mom observes that almost everyone she has ever counted as a good friend has moved away. Elane says she’s only had two or three best friends her entire life, and one of them is also moving away this summer. Jenn feels rebuffed and sees that the subject is not one best brought up on this day, and tries to apologize. This does not go well, and Elane tells Jenn that it’s okay–but really, who wants to talk about such depressing things at birthday parties? By the time I return, Jenn is in tears and is halfway back to the parking lot in spite of her pain. I am not particularly a happy camper about this familial lack of sensitivity. Yes, Jenn has had plenty to complain about over the last 14 years, and yes, the family has had to hear a good deal of it. But gosh: if you can’t “get out” much, and you can’t talk about your difficult life with family, who can you talk about it with?
I’m particularly frustrated about this given my very affirming observations about Jenn from the previous day. Makes one wonder, woman.
Sunday, June 11. 7:52 AM. This morning as we shower, I tell Jenn about some thoughts I’ve had regarding Peter Jackson’s Return of the King. When the film was released in 2004, both Dave Stark and I agreed that Jackson’s portrayal of Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins bore a great deal of resemblance to our friendship… only neither of us could really figure out, between us, who was Sam and who was Frodo.
After some reflection over the last couple of days, I tell Jenn, I have a hard time believing how much has changed in 13 years. There’s no doubt that she and I are now far more like Sam and Frodo than Dave and I ever were. And it’s clear who’s Frodo and who’s Sam. “I can’t carry it for you, Mr. Frodo. But I can carry you!”
I would give anything to be able to take Jenn’s burdens away from her. And yet, as she has often observed, Sam’s role is really harder than Frodo’s. Jackson captured that so well.
We also talk about the music of Nathan Clark George that has been running through Jenn’s head over the last couple of days. One of our favorites is “Rise in the Darkness,” an adaptation of Isaiah 58.
9:56 AM. We arrive at church. As we enter the auditorium, we both notice that Ryan Click is in attendance. This is remarkable for several reasons.
- Ryan has started regularly attending a church in the north end which is closer to his new job.
- Ryan, when he does make it to Harambee and isn’t leading worship, tends to arrive late.
- Ryan also tends to sit up front, and to the right. This morning he is sitting in the “cheap seats” section to the rear left of the auditorium.
- Jenn and I both notice this as we enter. We turn to each other and say, “Ryan’s here this morning!”
- Gosh, we both just love Ryan. He has been such a strong proponent of opening up both the congregation and individual lives to the Holy Spirit. Some people find this frightening. Yeah, well… you know what they say about Aslan. “He’s not a safe lion.”
10:25 AM. John Prince is preaching from Daniel 5:1-31, Belshazzar’s feast. The title of his sermon is “Who Do We Trust?” The sermon’s points are structured around the “writing on the wall”: mene, tekel, upharsin. When he reaches his second point, tekel–measured, weighed, and found wanting–the sermon starts feeling personally brutal.
So much of what Jenn and I have talked about over the last 48 hours has focused on the many, many ways Jenn feels that she has been scrutinized and found wanting. She can’t work. She can’t stay awake on her own without powerful medications. She can’t manage her various illnesses without a dependence on powerful narcotics. Even with a sleep disorder, she can’t manage to get to bed on time. Now, because of the osteoarthritis, she can’t manage to walk to the end of the block. She spoils picnics for my family members. She feels like a failure as a wife.
Jenn and I look at each other and just shake our heads. What John says is biblical truth: We are all found wanting, especially when we rely on ourselves. Because we rely on ourselves. The only way to make it through this life without being a failure is to rely on God, and what He has done. Because we’ll never measure up. Ever.
But biblical truth is not always comfortable. I am again reminded of Aslan. God, this is hard.
During the sermon, John also reads from Isaiah 58. Here’s some of the Nathan Clark George paraphrase:
If you offer your food to the hungry
And meet the needs of those in pain
Then your light will rise in the darkness
And your midnight will be like midday
Then the light shall break forth like the dawn
And healing shall quickly arise
And your victor shall go before you
And the glory of the Lord behind
11:20 AM. After Matt Topping has led the first post-sermon song, a highly unusual thing occurs. We’ve been attending Harambee since early 2003 and have never seen it happen.
Ryan Click steps to the mic to read from Scripture, unplanned–a passage from I Corinthians, as I recall. As Ryan begins speaking, I know that something very important is happening, that God is intervening in this day. I bury my head in my hands to concentrate on the Scripture, and Ryan’s words.
He says that the Spirit has impressed on him the need to share words of encouragement to those who feel that they do not measure up. He repeats what Jenn and I have already talked about, that the Good News is that we can’t succeed–that the Victor who goes before us has already won the battle. Our victory rests not in our own efforts, but in His. And the glory of God follows behind.
That’s a gross paraphrase, of course. (I don’t need proof of that.)
11:25 PM. Jenn and I rise with Cherie and the Trondson kids to share in communion. Because of the pain Jenn is in, we plan to sit in the seats immediately in front of the communion table to pray after we get the bread and wine.
Just as I begin leading a prayer, Ryan joins our little group. As we are concluding, Jenn begins talking with Olivia Trondson about what a failure she feels like all the time, and how badly she feels she treats me. As Jenn and Olivia talk, Cherie and the other kids return to their seats while Ryan sits to my left. He tells me what a powerful testimony my faithfulness to God through service to my wife is. Never before has Ryan seemed so full of the Spirit, and so compassionate. I tell him that I can accept those words.
11:40 AM. Olivia and Jenn’s conversation becomes animated as worship celebration wraps up. Ryan and I join in as Jenn begins spilling out all the things that she and I have discussed in the preceding days. John Prince joins us after worship completes and the five of us continue to talk as the congregation filters out. We’ve known for some time that John and Jenn went to the same schools in Federal Way; we did not know that John’s younger brother also participated in the same gifted-learner program that Jenn did. John also knows what it is to be rejected by more “socially-acceptable” pseudo-friends, to be looked down on as uncouth and “dirty.” He knows about being the “dumbest of the smart” in gifted programs.
12:56 PM. The five of us are still talking, thoroughly engaged in the moment. It’s funny, but I have never before felt such a freedom from the burden of time and hunger. Just on Thursday, I received business news that lifted financial and planning burdens that have been weighing on me for a year. It’s as if the decks have been personally cleared for this divine appointment–for all of us. Even Olivia has been given free rein by Cherie to stay as long as need be. This 15-year-old angel is a key part of a Spirit-led triage.
John says to Jenn, “Let’s step back for a moment. We’re all saying a lot of things. But what is God telling you in this moment?”
Jenn legitimately searches inside, taking several minutes to reflect. Then, very slowly and soberly she begins recounting her long tale of abandonment, starting when she was toddler. Her dad’s loss of faith and withdrawal into depression. Her loss of friends with change of schools. Her outright rejection by other friends when older. Her brother’s epic bout with systemic cancer. Her father’s natural physical withdrawal as Jenn matures in adolescence. Her loss of friends and family sympathy as she herself sinks into cutting, depression, and eating disorders. The losses associated with prolonged illness. Friends and family now moving away. Yesterday’s freezeout from Mom and Elane. The Trondsons.
Olivia says she feels that loss, too. Jenn replies that it’s not fair that a 15-year-old should shoulder any share of this burden. Olivia says that it’s not up to her, or to Jenn. That it’s in God’s hands, and that He has prepared her for it. The situation is not unlike, she says, that scene in The Lord of the Rings at Mount Doom, when Sam says… and as Jenn and I look at each other in amazement, the three of us say in unison, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!” We tell the others of our very conversation about that this morning.
John hones in on the key issue with Jenn: the problems of guilt and shame. He uses the very language that was used with Jenn in therapy at Remuda Ranch in 1996: guilt is about what you’ve done; shame is about who you are. Jenn has been able to forgive herself for what she has done, but she hasn’t been able to accept what she is. She is ruled by a powerful sense of shame.
Jenn explains that at Remuda, the women in eating-disorder therapy were all–with one exception, and that exception being Jenn–given the opportunity to renounce their shame, because they all had demonstrable shame-originating roots in childhood sexual abuse. This did not factor into Jenn’s case, and so she was denied that experience on the grounds that it would “cheapen” others’ experience.
1:45 PM. Jenn is finally and wonderfully granted the opportunity to be known, to be heard, to be understood by peers and spiritual counselors–and to be given the right and the freedom to declare, “This is not my shame!” She does so. Many tears all around are shed.
2:02 PM. Not that this will be the end of the story, after all. The journey continues to be long and difficult. As it should be, Olivia declares. After all, says this elfin spirit, “we are not Human Beings; we are Human Becomings.”
Can you believe this? These connections are all beyond reason. “Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days— You would not believe if you were told.”
A few weeks ago, I wrote that the human experience is richer
if we “rehearse and prepare” for “great apparent coincidences.” After all, the opposite is also perfectly likely: that one is likely to miss great miracles, if they do in fact occur, if one has rehearsed and prepared to dismiss them on the basis of a priori commitments.
The very writing and reflection of those words was yet another rehearsal for what transpired over 48 hours.
Thank you, Olivia. Thank you, Ryan. Thank you, John. Thank you Cherie and Angie for sharing your families with us.
Thank you Matt and Jojo and Isaac and Mom and Dad and Elane and Laura and Julie and Poppy and Douglas (and yes, even Tim!) for being a part of this amazingly orchestrated weekend.
Thank you, God. Thank you.