Thursday, February 27, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 5

Continued from Part 4

Traverse City, Michigan and Wichita, Kansas merge in Oak Brook, Illinois--January 1999

The Institute straddles the line between Oak Brook and Hinsdale, IL.

Over the holidays , I packed all my navy skirts and white blouses and prepared to move to the Oak Brook campus in January. Somehow, probably through Michael, I let Chris know that I was going to work at Headquarters after all. I was excited that the CLink would be back together again. Illinois wouldn't be the same as Oklahoma, but we would still have adventures and we would have each other.

Meanwhile in Wichita, Chris had called Headquarters to let them know he'd changed his mind. He was not going to take the computer department job after all. And then he found out that I was going. Everything seemed mixed up. He should just find a job, right? But one day in December, Bill Gothard himself called Chris at home and begged him to reconsider. Bill had been told Chris was essential to the survival of the CharacterLink service; they needed him in Oak Brook. Chris hesitated. An only child with no friends in Wichita, he was lonely. He was sleeping on a couch, his room had been gutted and his belongings discarded in his absence. His grandfather's home didn't feel like home. His parents were stressed. What should he do?

The cult offered stability and companionship. At Headquarters, Chris could live and work among friends, peers even. And he'd get to see me. But he was unwilling to be completely assimilated again. He made some demands of his own: IBLP would pay for flights back to Wichita so Chris could visit his parents one weekend a month, and rent for Institute housing would not be deducted from his minimum wage paycheck. Bill agreed to those terms, and Chris got ready to drive north into the snowdrifts.

Chicago got blasted with winter that year. Snow was lying about two feet deep on the IBLP campus when Michael and I drove down from Traverse City on one of the coldest days I can remember. Lisa had already arrived by plane and had our shared bedroom readied for my arrival with matching bedspreads and a Winnie-the-Pooh poster on the door. We went out for fast food together that night, bundled in double layers under thick coats, and reminisced about summer and planned fun times in our new stomping grounds, just 20 miles from downtown Chicago.

We were all most certainly not dating. Michael was my brother, Chris was his friend and coworker and sometimes roommate, Lisa was their coworker and my roommate and her dad was in negotiations with a man in Oklahoma who thought he wanted to marry her. "Dating" was not permitted at IBLP training centers. We had all sat through innumerable conference lectures on the evils and dangers of a dating spirit, defrauding, singling someone out of a group for particular attention... We knew the rules, even the unwritten ones. The "no appearance of evil" rule. The "six-inch" rule. The not-being-alone-with-a-guy rule. The no-one-in-each-other's-rooms rule. The rule that necessitated glass office doors at the other training centers. Here, there were even more.

When I got settled into my cozy little office corner, the IT guys set up email on my computer. And someone gave me a form to fill out with the names and email addresses of any personal contacts that I intended to communicate with. I think there was room for half a dozen people. I put my parents' email down. I can't remember who else. We all knew Bill Gothard was uncomfortable with his staff having access to email at all, and the main point of the form was to discourage interaction between members of the opposite sex by minimizing privacy. Control was Gothard's modus operandi.

We assumed that Headquarters leadership would be concerned about the four of us outsiders from "Oklahoma" (though none of us were from that state) forming a clique. But we were not about to dissolve our sustaining friendships. As often as we dared, we would sit at the same table for staff lunch--the hot meal of the day provided by IBLP and the long-suffering kitchen staff. Nearly everyone else was a stranger to me, after all. Why shouldn't I eat with my brother?

Lisa and I had been assigned to Brook Manor, IBLP housing for ladies just across a parking lot from Bill's office at the Staff Center. We could see his office from our window. Bill was away this time of year, enjoying his customary retreat in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Our offices were in the Production Center building about a quarter-mile walk
down the road. During those frigid winter weeks, we were more than grateful  for Michael's willingness to pick us up in his car. I didn't know then how hard Chris pushed him in the morning to make sure my brother was punctual. Chris didn't want to miss the opportunity to spend time with me, even if it was only a few minutes!

Brook Manor--our curtains behind the far left pillar
There were more women than men working at Headquarters. And we self-segregated for some reason. At morning staff meeting, which was a sort of chapel service, the ladies sat on one side of the room while the guys and married couples sat on the other. I usually sat with my brother, just to be ornery. The meetings on Saturday and Sunday nights were less formal (we could wear colors other than navy and white). 

Michael and I missed the church we'd found in Oklahoma City, but we decided this was a good opportunity to explore other corners of Christendom. When Sunday rolled around, the four of us climbed into Michael's car and went hunting for whatever church I had selected for us that week: Presbyterian, Lutheran, Christian & Missionary Alliance... It was a great way to discuss our beliefs, our expectations, and our preferences. 

Chris's dad had encouraged him to take advantage of his proximity to Chicago. So we did! 

Our first weekend together, we drove downtown in the sunshine and spent the day exploring the city. We found Moody Bible Institute--home of some of my favorite radio programs from childhood--and wandered around inside some of the buildings reading commemorative plaques. We went down to the snow-covered Navy Pier and watched the ice cutters on the lake. On the way back to Hinsdale, we stopped for ice cream. 

We spent the next Saturday at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. I remember Lisa and I paying close attention to the exhibit displaying human fetuses at various stages of development. She pointed out the one that was the same age as the brother her mother had miscarried. My education in human biology had glossed over a lot of details, and I was strangely attracted to the ghostly unfinished forms floating in chemicals. The guys were off checking out another exhibit, or we would have been too shy to spend time on anything related to human reproduction. This despite the fact that we were both of childbearing age!

We made plans to venture away from Oak Brook again on the last weekend of January, but our boss got wind of it. When the "fellas" dropped us off at Brook Manor after work Friday night, darkness had already fallen. Before we got out of the car, Dwight Fredrickson came up to us there in the driveway and we were instantly on guard. 

Were we planning an outing the next day? We were non-committal; yes, we had talked about going somewhere. He did not recommend doing that. I think he used some analogy as a warning. We all knew it was a warning. His face was hard, his eyes cold. He had to get home, he said. His dinner would be cold and his wife would be hot. I have pondered that statement for fifteen years now. Was he blaming us for his cold dinner? Or for his hot wife? 

After Dwight left, we sat in the car talking for a long time. Someone had ratted on us, our "authorities" were trying to control our lives, and we were mad. Well, if they wanted to order us to stay on IBLP property, we could play by those rules. They could not break us up. The next day we met after breakfast and wandered the Institute grounds together, letting the sun warm our depressed spirits. We walked down to the pond, poking at the ice and picking our way around the goose droppings. Michael climbed into a tree by the Production Center and we girls snapped photos. When we got hungry, the boys drove to McDonald's and brought back burgers which we ate in merry defiance on the lace tablecloths in the Staff Center dining room. 

Continued at Part 6.


  1. You guys are amazing. :-) I love that you forged your own happiness in the midst of so much suppression and unkindness. XO

  2. Funny how all these years later, seeing these pictures, I can still feel the emotions of that day we spent wandering around the IBLP property. Depressed yet defiant... enjoying the time spent with friends in spite of how "they" treated us!! Obeying the letter of the law while refusing to let them force us to conform to the spirit of the law. :)

    -- "Lisa"