Friday, June 27, 2014

Our Courtship Story: In Which Things Get Messy

Continued from The Plot Thickens

May 2000     Michigan, also Indianapolis

In spite of his history of taking drives around Chicago without his landlord's permission, Chris was no rebel. With all his hopes for future happiness resting on my father's permission, he was adhering faithfully to the ATI/IBLP courtship script.  The next move was Scott's to make. And the week had been delightful. Chris had enjoyed every minute with my siblings; getting to hang out with me again made it even better! The only disappointment had been, well, my dad.

All week Chris had waited for my father to say something, anything! Here Chris was, with nothing else on his agenda. Nearly a month had passed since Chris had first requested permission to court me. Now, for the first time, the three of us (Chris, me, and my dad) were in the same house, eating at the same table, sleeping under the same roof. When would their discussion resume? Was Scott toying with him? Chris wasn't sure what the procedure was, but he certainly hoped they could move on to the next step soon.

The Fiat was packed and Chris was ready to hit the road when Dad finally spoke. Would Chris like to take a walk? A walk? Now? How do you say what you really think to the man who holds the power to say yay or nay to your heart's deepest yearnings? Um, sure!

What did they talk about? The conversation has faded completely from Chris's memory. But as they strolled up the road together, news spread through the house like wildfire. "Dad and Chris are going for a walk!" This was a highly irregular event. Dad and Mama walking after lunch, or after dinner, yes. But Dad taking a walk with a visiting young man after breakfast was completely unheard of. When the pair returned from their walk, Chris got in his car and took off. Dad went back to his office chair and said nothing.

When I got home from work that evening, I was already agitated. I wanted to know if anything had happened in the final moments of Chris's visit to illuminate the dark mysteries of the last month. Andraste filled me in. "Dad and Chris took a walk before he left," she said me. But that was all she knew.

A walk? Dad and Chris? What the hell was going on? If they were talking about me and my future, didn't I have a right to know about it? I had had more than enough of men in my life planning my existence for me. And Dad had better not be getting Chris's hopes up! I knew Chris way better than he did, after all. It was just cruel to string him along like this!

I knew Chris was lonely--how well I knew! It was hard to leave the Institute, whether you left on good terms or bad. It would be natural for his thoughts to settle on an old friend. Or maybe I was just being conceited. Maybe he really was interested in Andraste. She was sweet and domestic and had just finished high school, after all. He was younger than I, not by much, but I'd always said I'd marry someone older. 

The last months had had their share of internal tension but the last week had been off the charts! Out on the trampoline, I vented my exasperation to Andraste. "This"--bounce--"is ridiculous"--bounce! Poor Andraste understood exactly how I felt. It had been a rough week for her, too. What with graduation, a house guest, a crazed roommate (me), and the gift of clip-on earrings with the caution not to wear them "too often"! She wanted to help.

Andraste got on the computer and looked for Chris's screenname. Sure enough, there he was. He was staying overnight at the IBLP training center in Indianapolis, for old time's sake. And naturally, he had gravitated to the CharacterLink office, where he was sitting in front of a computer screen. "Jeri's really upset," Andraste told him. "We all know about your letter, and that Dad talked to you in private this morning. But he won't tell us anything and Jeri's going crazy wondering if it's about her."

Chris felt bad. Making me miserable was the last thing he wanted to do. Apparently, his letter was an open secret, their one-on-one conversation was a giveaway, and Scott didn't realize what his own daughters knew. The next morning, he made a phone call to my dad.

"Scott, everyone in your house knows about my letter, but they don't know if I'm interested in Jeri or Andraste. You need to tell them what's going on."

So Dad and I had a conference in his closet of an office. So it was about courtship, and it was about me. I knew it! I also knew I had no romantic feelings for Chris. It was unfair for Dad to let Chris get his hopes up! We had a good friendship and had shared a lot of memories, and there was no reason to ruin that relationship by trying to force it through a "courtship" process, subjecting it to scrutiny and pressure and expectations from my family for months (years? how long did one maintain a courtship before giving up?). How dare Dad give my friend false hope? I insisted he call a halt to the whole thing. Now.

Dad agreed. He would talk to Chris. "But, first," he said, "Chris wanted it to be a secret, but I think you should know now, he wanted to pay $5000 for your trip to the Philippines. Of course, under the circumstances, it wouldn't be right to let him do that, so I'll tell him to keep it."

Well, that was a bombshell that came out of nowhere. Chris had that kind of money? He wanted to give it to me? So I could move across the globe for months? I was dazed. "No, right, he shouldn't. Of course." My head spun. I knew Chris was generous, but he was an even better guy than I'd thought. Not that it made any difference in my sexual interest. I would stick to my position. If my mind ever changed, my mom would be able to say I'd been bought. She'd said things like that before. Well, I wouldn't change my mind.

Chris was still in Indianapolis when Dad called him back. That conversation turned out to be significant, mostly because of how Chris interpreted it. We don't have a recording, of course, but Chris recalls that Scott told him, "As far as I'm concerned, you're a great guy, but Jeri has asked me to tell you that she's not interested. So consider yourself free to move on and pursue other interests!"

Chris had an entire day on the highway to digest this news. The Fiat covered the distance to Wichita in record time.

And I wondered, if I hadn't put my foot down, how long would Dad have strung Chris along?

Continued at Instant Messenger and Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A *Real* Investigation into IBLP


  Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected

--Bill Gothard

Bill Gothard's buddy David Gibbs, Jr. has now completed his "investigation" into allegations made against Gothard by former IBLP staff members. According to the IBLP board earlier this week,
"...the Board sought the facts through a confidential and thorough review process conducted by outside legal counsel. Many people were interviewed, including former Board members, current and past staff members, current and past administrators, parents, and family members.
"At this point, based upon those willing to be interviewed, no criminal activity has been discovered."

But according to the team at Recovering Grace,
"...not one of the women who have shared their stories on our site were personally contacted by Gibbs Jr. or his investigative team, including Charlotte, who alleged molestation."

Perhaps Gibbs Jr. needs to brush up on his Character Qualities.

It would seem that Gibbs' investigation focused narrowly on certain allegations of sexual impropriety (some of which Gothard has admitted to, resulting in his resignation). However, this is but the sensational tip of the iceberg and ignores the broad scope of hurtful, unethical, and even illegal activities that have damaged numerous lives associated with the Institute in Basic Life Principles.

Gothard promoted his organization as "Giving the world a new approach to life" and following God's "non-optional principles". A ministry that prides itself on being "under authority" should have nothing to fear from the truth. And yet, the testimonies of some former students and staff members paint a disturbing picture. Some of these stories of life under the auspices of the Institute have been published on Recovering Grace. Others have been shared more privately. Some victims are willing to have their names attached to their experiences while others prefer anonymity, or pseudonyms.

Each of the incidents outlined below could likely be explained away on its own. But taken together they suggest a pattern that I believe is worthy of deeper examination. The Board of IBLP can write, "We dedicate ourselves to help build up families and individuals," but if these situations actually took place, the Institute's so-called "ministry" is a farce, with or without Gothard, and IBLP should be shut down to prevent further abuse of power.

A real investigation of IBLP might look into allegations of the following:

OSHA and other code violations at all locations: Indianapolis and South Campus, IN; Oak Brook, IL; Oklahoma City and Eagle Springs (Skiatook), OK; Northwoods (Watersmeet) and Flint, MI; Big Sandy, TX;  Little Rock, Elms Plantation (Pine Bluff), and Eagle Mountain (Berryville), AR; Nashville (Madison) TN; and others
For example
  • Lack of permits: illegal remodeling, dredging a lake without a permit, improper electrical wiring
  • Poor fire safety: hiding fire extinguishers and fire pulls behind paintings or d├ęcor items; silencing a monitored fire alarm to avoid disrupting conferences, not reporting fires to fire department
  • Improper supervision: letting teens work on upper-story building exterior or fire escapes without safety harness
  • Injuries: electrical shocks from unsafe practices, minors injured while operating power tools, carbon monoxide poisoning of kitchen volunteers
  • Faulty elevators
  • Violations of residential occupancy limits

Prayer rooms (especially at 2820 N. Meridian, Indianapolis): 
  • locking minors in solitary confinement without notifying parents
  • locking minors in solitary without access to a restroom
  • withholding food or medication
  • spanking minors without parental consent

Failure to protect children by reporting abuse:
  • failure to report sex acts with or molestation or attempted sexual molestation of minors in IBLP's care at the ITC (Rodger Gergeni)
  • failure to report sexual abuse of minors in ATI families (Bill Gothard)
  • pressure on homeschooled victims not to report physically abusive parents
  • shaming victims of sexual assault and neglecting to counsel them to contact police
  • pressuring ATI moms not to divorce abusive husbands who posed a danger to the children

Educational neglect
  • failure to educate "homeschooled" minors who were sent to IBLP centers by their parents
  • using A.C.E. curriculum for children sent by the courts
  • violation of child labor laws
  • children (9-10 years old) working in the kitchen or cleaning bathrooms, sometimes rising as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to work
  • unpaid teenagers working 12-18 hour days in the hotels (cooking, industrial laundry, cleaning hotel rooms and public restrooms)
  • selling teens unaccredited degrees ( without adequate explanation of their value

Forced fasting
  • on weekends, designated prayer days, and other times when meal preparation was inconvenient
  • though some children were sent there by the state and other students paid for room and board, only two meals were served on Saturday and only supper on Sunday
  • sometimes only two meals a day were served for weeks in a row
  • requiring students to turn in care packages
  • also mandatory weight checks (Weigh Down) for staff women, involuntary diets, forced exercise
  • failure to recognize eating disorders such as anorexia (even when girls were passing out)

Medical neglect
  • withholding or confiscating prescription medication (including antidepressants, an asthma inhaler, post-surgery pain medication)
  • refusal to get prompt medical treatment for severe burns, broken bones, concussions, pneumonia, collapsed lung, high fevers, torn ligaments, acute food poisoning--many former students trace chronic health problems to untreated conditions that arose at training centers
  • treating injuries with alternative remedies such as sugar water injections (Dr. Hemwall)
  • letting doctors or dentists with revoked licenses treat students at training centers

Campaign ethics
  • sending youth to campaign for Indianapolis judicial and mayoral candidates
  • providing private services to a public official (Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin) in Oklahoma

Employer issues
  • pressuring employees not to record overtime on time sheets
  • advising employees that submitted overtime hours would not be paid
  • mandatory unpaid evening work teams for employees (washing dishes, cleaning carpets, scrubbing bathrooms)
  • paying less than minimum wage, paying minimum wage minus "rent"
  • firing employees without due process or notice
  • refusal to pay workers’ compensation
  • instructing employee to lie to hospital staff to protect the "ministry"
  • praising employees who gave up their paycheck to become volunteers
  • allowing children under 16 to work more than twenty hours a week
  • sexual harassment of junior staff or students by adult staff

  • physical abuse, medical neglect, solitary confinement, unsafe equipment, psychological abuse
  • refusal to contact parents regarding medical emergencies
  • keeping four teens tied together by the feet for an entire day, resulting in injury
  • a unit of under-dressed teen boys standing outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures at night until one confessed to a minor infraction
  • disregard for basic safety precautions

Mistreating Russian orphans in Moscow and at Indianapolis South Campus:
  • foster families spanking children and even teens
  • children spanked for minor misdeeds
  • English-speaker spanking Russian child without an interpreter present
  • withholding meals from children for disciplinary purposes or feeding them only dry rolled oats and water
  • child labor (reports of children required to clean toilets at 5 a.m.)
  • using orphans to "encourage" financial donors

Restricted communication from training centers: 
  • limited access to public phones, email, fax, or internet
  • reading students' outgoing or incoming mail, confiscating mail or making students open mail in presence of a leader
  • censoring outgoing email
  • telling students what to tell (or not tell) their parents about situations at the training center
  • limiting who a student or employee was allowed to correspond with outside
  • restricting conversation or interaction between fellow students 

Psychological abuse
  • lengthy, repetitive, or middle-of-the-night “counseling” sessions (berating and brainwashing)
  • restricting sleep
  • piping loud music into bedrooms
  • assigning staff to night duties on consecutive nights (along with their day jobs)
  • requiring student to wash clothing by hand until she had earned "privilege" of using the laundry facilities; requiring staff to recite extensive Bible passages before breaking a fast
  • confiscating clocks
  • hours of forced labor intended to "break will" or "conquer rebellion"

Violations of privacy
  • not permitting students to take bathroom breaks or use the restroom alone, or with the door closed
  • confiscating personal items such as clothing, music, photographs, medication, and cell phones

  • sending unreported cash through customs on staff member's person
  • exaggerating or misrepresenting facts in newsletters
  • promotional video about ALERT describing a pilot “rescue” omitted the fact that it was ALERT’s own plane that crashed while taking aerial photos of the property)
  • personal gifts of cash or clothing from Gothard to his favorites
  • discrimination against males who appeared "too effeminate" and females who were overweight or not "feminine" enough
  • photoshopping hair, clothing, and landscaping for newsletter photos
  • selling overpriced plant kits to ATI families under fraudulent advertising
  • serving old (long-expired) donated food or insect-infested grain
  • transferring minors across state lines between "training opportunities" without parental permission or notification
  • insisting that Character First was not affiliated with Gothard

With former ATI students and IBLP staff reporting incidents like these, is it any surprise that so few choose to use Gothard's materials with their own children?

IBLP has also had operations in Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Romania, Mongolia, and Mexico.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Our Courtship Story: The Plot Thickens

Continued from Best Laid Plans

May 2000     Michigan

To recap, I was aware that Chris had sent Dad (Scott*) a letter last month, but could only speculate about its contents. Chris, operating under the delusion that the letter expressing his interest was a secret from everyone but Michael, was awaiting Scott's permission before discussing anything with me. Still, Chris hoped I already had feelings for him. Was it not common, in the tales of blissful courtships, for God to already have prepared the girl to welcome her perfect match?

My siblings dragging Chris inside
When Chris arrived at our crowded farmhouse, though I don't remember what, I'm certain I served up something delicious in his honor. The boys' room opened off the dining room and one of my brothers, probably Amos*, had already offered to sleep on the couch so Chris could have one of the four bunks.

Chris's car had given him some trouble on the journey, so before darkness fell he went out to the driveway to look it over. The rest of the family dispersed and I noticed that Chris was outside alone. Knowing how much companionship meant to him, and feeling a bit sorry that his adorable little sports car had embarrassed him on such an important day (it was a big day, right? perhaps part of some grand romantic scheme?), I joined him. I was glad for the chance to visit alone with Chris, but my radar did not pick up any romantic signals.

My curious inquiries as late as the week before had met with vague responses like "Chris is Michael's friend" and "Chris is coming to visit our family". So, partly to make a statement to all concerned that my life would not be put on hold for anyone's unvoiced expectations and much to Mama's annoyance, I voluntarily scheduled extra hours at work that week. If Chris was truly coming to visit Michael, or "the whole family", he could just do that! At the office, though, when I told my favorite salesman about Chris's visit, he was impressed. Anyone who would drive two thousand miles round-trip in an old Fiat--well! That took some determination. Grrr, this wasn't helping me convince myself that Chris's motives had nothing to do with me! Surely, if they did, I would know by this time?

Andraste marked her high school graduation with other homeschoolers that week, the first of us siblings to have a cap-and-gown ceremony. I was suffering from at least a twinge of envy and was grateful for Chris's company. As we milled around the auditorium both feeling a little lost, Chris filled me in on the latest gossip about mutual acquaintances--who was courting whom and whose courtships had not worked out. Chris did not reveal any out-of-the-ordinary interest in Andraste, but then, I could not detect that he had any new feelings toward me, either! Alone with Chris in the crowd, I cherished the rare opportunity to visit with my good friend; at the same time, it was utterly maddening.

On Sunday, several of us, including Chris and I, decided to tag along with Amos to attend an Amish church service way out in the country. In the car, I treated Chris to an Italian aria I had recently learned from my voice teacher, and helpfully gave him the English translation: "Victory, my heart! Bondage to love is over." Naturally, he wasn't sure how to interpret this musical outburst!

When we arrived at the farm in the middle of nowhere (I still don't know where we were), we girls stood out sorely with our flowing hair and printed dresses. Some people arrived in buggies. Separate entrances admitted men and women into the building where the service was to be held. I had spent my teens reading about "singings" in authentic Amish romance novels, but this was the closest I'd come to experiencing one. At twenty-four years old, I was probably the oldest single girl in the room. We sat on backless benches and sang gospel songs a capella, reading the lyrics by gas light since the place lacked electricity. We had a long drive home in the dark to process the whole surreal evening.

The week went on, with Chris signalling nothing and me giving as many contradictory signals as possible. I tried to tell myself there were no secrets afoot, but could not dismiss the fact that Chris had mailed Dad a letter. Could that mean... Courtship? Was this what I had been keeping myself for? Despite sermons decrying them, I knew well what crushes felt like and I did not have a crush on Chris. Though I couldn't bring myself to think the words "sexual interest", I knew there was none. No romantic attraction. No unhealthy "soul tie". I had told Dwight Fredrickson as much back in his Headquarters office when he expressed concern about Chris and I associating too closely. "I am not here to find a husband!" I had declared with spirit. And I'd meant it.

Growing bolder by the day, I now studied Chris's hairy arms, the hands he never knew what to do with, his long bony fingers, the curve of his ass in jeans. I had fantasized many things about various men, but never about Chris. And I couldn't bring myself to start now. Did he find me attractive? Could that possibly be why he was here??

Rolling down the dune
On my day off, the whole family took an excursion to the sand dunes by the lake. Chris let my siblings bury him in the sand, and I got comfortable enough, or giddy enough, to roll down the dune with the others. This was a mild flirtation because my pleated denim skirt wound up high enough to reveal the long lace-edged homemade bloomers underneath--and I just knew my mother was watching my bold "immodesty". Displaying my undergarments to Chris on the dune!

On the morning of Chris's departure, I made a point of saying goodbye before I left for work. He was still pajama-clad when we shook hands in the kitchen. I don't know why I expected it, but all morning I thought about Chris's route and hoped he would surprise me at the office before leaving town. Maybe if he could see me alone, he could clear up the mystery that had hung suffocatingly in the air all week. What was the good of secrecy, anyway?

But Chris didn't come.

*Names are pseudonyms.

Continue reading at In Which Things Get Messy

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Library Shelf: Mother, Mother

Last Friday night, Chris and I experienced a performance of Patrick Hamilton's play Angel Street (also known as Gaslight), a "Victorian thriller" focused on a woman whose abusive, sociopathic husband is trying to convince her she is losing her mind. Bella Manningham's character, unforgettably played onstage by Michelle Janssens, held us transfixed as she trembled and shrieked, clinging desperately to the reality she wanted to be true.

The next morning, I opened this startling new novel by Koren Zailckas, and was taken by surprise. Mother, Mother, it turns out, is another story of gaslighting and psychological abuse. This gripping contemporary tale, told from the view of two siblings, unfolds in a tone almost too matter-of-fact for a thriller. And I couldn't stop turning the pages!

Anyone concerned about the welfare of children will find food for thought here. Among other things, the book illustrates some very important, but little discussed, points about homeschooling--even including a home visit from Child Protective Services. I don't want to give the plot away, so I'll just say that I found Mother, Mother strangely therapeutic. Some of the characters were people I felt I already knew in real life. Others were people I hope to know, or even to be, some day.

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Pete Walker is a therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area who has worked extensively with clients suffering from Complex PTSD. Walker "gets it" because he's been there. He chronicles many of the insights that have aided his own recovery in his very accessible book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.

I highly recommend the entire book, but this post will focus on one concept, perhaps the most helpful to me: the potential of "reparenting". Cptsd is often described as an attachment disorder, the result of a childhood that lacked "a safe adult to healthily bond with", leaving the individual feeling ill-equipped to function in a world believed to be a dangerous place. But now we are the adults. We have adult resources and skills and understanding. And it is possible for us to become our own champions.

Walker writes:
"An important, yin/yang dynamic of reparenting involves balancing self-mothering and self-fathering. When a child's mothering needs are adequately met, self-compassion is installed at the core of her being. When the same is true of her fathering needs, self-protection also becomes deeply imbedded.... Living in the world without access to these primal instincts of survival is truly terrifying." 
Self-compassion, as Walker describes it, is developing a sense that we are loved and deserve to be loved. It is a refusal to hate or abandon or punish ourselves (just as a devoted mother refuses to hate or abandon even a distressed infant). Self-mothering is "creating a safe place in your heart where your inner child and your present time self are always welcome".

Self-protection is coming to our own rescue. It is learning to stand up for our rights, defending ourselves against threatened exploitation, abuse, or neglect. Self-fathering is learning to assertively advocate for ourselves. As we learn self-protection and have more tools at our disposal, our scared, helpless feelings diminish and our inner self is able to grow "as he experiences his adult self consistently rising to his defense".

Whether you had one parent or two, or three or more, whether your parents were available, absent, or abusive, you can choose to be your own best parent now. I love the simplicity of this approach. It is easy enough to remember during flashbacks and rich enough to relate to numerous situations and relationships. It has also become a guide as I parent my own kids. Not only does it steer me toward patience and going to bat for my children, it also reminds me to encourage them to practice self-care and self-advocacy.

On this Father's Day, remember that you can champion and support YOU.

Friday, June 13, 2014

This and That: Summer Edition

Hello, readers! When I determined, back before Valentine's Day to write up our courtship tale, I had no idea how many words it would take! Thanks to each of you who have encouraged me to keep going. And I will keep going, even when I have to take it slow.

Got home to find this beauty!
We are still unpacking from our week at the beach. Still finding sand we brought back to Kansas. Sunburns still peeling. Conquering the post-vacation laundry mountain while watching episodes of M*A*S*H. Catching up on the lawn, and the final episodes of Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmos, and pulling grass out of my flowerbeds. Visiting with neighbors and remembering why we love our neighborhood. Nothing like traveling to make home feel like "home"!

This is the first summer all the kids have the experience of being home from school. It is different to step into my full-time mom shoes again. We have been taking trips to the library, the orthodontist, the doctor, friends' houses for play dates, the optometrist to pick up a replacement lens, the grocery store to stock up on fresh berries for jam and pies. And with my daughter's help, I finally defrosted the basement freezer--a project that's been on my list for months!

Author Jeannette Walls
at Watermark Books
This week I had the chance to hear the beautiful and resilient Jeannette Walls speak here in Wichita. It was such a treat I didn't mind spending the hour standing in the back row. Though Walls is on tour to promote her newest book, she talked more about her memoir The Glass Castle, which I highly recommend! She talked about storytelling, about vulnerability, about healing and scars, and about speaking our truth, even about people we love. I drew so much strength and inspiration from Walls that evening and may have even shed a few tears.

Speaking of tears, I saw The Fault in Our Stars with a girlfriend last night. I was prepared for the story to be sad, but it was so sweet and lovely and rich at the same time. Now I want to read the book. As if I wasn't in the middle of four books already... But, hey, isn't that what summer is for?

On our vacation, we revisited a few places we hadn't seen since our honeymoon. We are such different people now! Funny the things that change. I didn't have a bikini back then; Chris didn't drink coffee. We felt daring for listening to Michael Card in the car. We had so many fears. Maybe someday we'll return sans children and have more time to explore the places and activities that would have scared us back then.

Working on our courtship narrative together has been special this year as we compare memories over glasses of wine, constructing a timeline of events, with me asking Chris questions and jotting down notes. Then I write at my leisure during the day, one installment at a time, and get Chris to look each one over before hitting the "Publish" button. It can take longer if I need to confirm history with friends or siblings.

If you don't see me posting here as frequently over the summer, you can figure it's because I am busy enjoying our family, or cultivating real-life friendships, or just taking time for myself.


Colored Pencils on Vacation :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Our Courtship Story: Best Laid Plans

Continued from Taking the Plunge

April-May 2000

Chris sent his letter to Michigan by express delivery. And a day or two later, his phone rang. My dad and a couple of my siblings were in Kansas, two hours north of Wichita. Would Chris like to come up and spend the day with them?

Chris was perplexed. Could this have anything to do with his letter? If my dad had driven to Kansas, surely the envelope hadn't even arrived in Michigan before he left home. Hmmm, this was awkward. Of course Chris wanted to spend time with my family, however unexpected the opportunity! He agreed to meet up with Dad the next day.

The ill-fated letter arrived at our house, with great fanfare. It was addressed to Dad, from Chris. There was no doubt it was a Big Deal. Only Dad wasn't home. He was on his way to Kansas on business. What to do? Mom took custody of the envelope. When Dad checked in from his hotel that evening, Mom closed herself up in the bedroom and read it to him over the phone.

Back at the hotel, my brother and 18-year-old sister, Andraste*, were full of curiosity, too! A special message from Chris for Dad? What was going on?

Chris spent the next day helping make photocopies for Dad at the university, all the while wondering how much Dad knew! At the end of the day, Chris prepared to drive home. Dad and the others were headed south, too. Dad suggested he could ride with Chris for a while in his restored convertible. That suited Chris, who was anxious to know if my dad even knew about his letter! Sure enough, once they were on the highway, Dad told him that the letter had indeed arrived and that Mom had read him its contents.

Dad had met Chris when he visited for the weekend a year before, but he had a few questions that seemed appropriate now that Chris had put his cards on the table. Had Chris ever been married? Did he have any children? There were others, now lost to memory. Chris, a spreadsheet man, presumed that the two of them would chart a course for the proposed courtship. Dad, who made spreadsheets for a living but rarely planned ahead, was in no hurry. Chris should continue to make arrangements for his pending visit as if nothing had changed. He could work out the details with Michael. And then they parted, and Chris was left alone again to daydream and wait.

Letters to Dad from eligible bachelors did not arrive every day. I had been waiting years for a boy to show any interest in me whatsoever. And the first sign of such interest would naturally be a letter to my father. But then, my sister was also a young woman. Chris had met her when she spent a few weeks working in the Headquarters kitchen. Andraste was pretty and talented and so completely different from me in personality. I convinced myself that the letter could just as easily be an announcement of Chris's passion for Andraste. Chris was coming soon, to spend a week. That must have something to do with this. Surely all the mystery would then be made clear.

But whatever Chris had in mind, I was making plans of my own. After much thought about my future, I had made my first Big Decision: I applied to Wycliffe Bible Translators as a short-term volunteer. I had some money saved from my small IBLP salary. And I was saving more from my job at the window company. I was eager to see another part of the world, and I missed feeling like I was doing something useful for God.

Dad had read us numerous tales of foreign missions--they were regular evening entertainment after we got rid of our television. I was rather young the first time my parents had told me, "You would make a good Bible translator, Jeri." The idea lay dormant in the back of my mind for years, but while still working at IBLP Headquarters, I began researching Wycliffe opportunities. After I moved home, I looked into it more closely It was the one direction I knew my parents would be unable to object to. For some reason, mission work seemed the one place where a woman could find freedom to teach and lead in a capacity nearly equal to men. I knew I would have been a pastor had I been born male, and my spunky independent streak was growing particularly strong the longer I tried to live under my parents' roof.

Wycliffe's application form asked me to choose three nations where I would be willing to serve as a "guest helper". I had been studying Spanish on my own, so I selected Guatemala and Peru, countries familiar to me from missionary biographies. I needed one more. My uncle had spent time in the Philippines with the Navy when I was a kid. There was some Spanish influence, and the climate was tropical. I added "The Philippines" to my list.

I also enrolled in the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a cooperative effort between Wycliffe and the University of North Dakota. If I was seriously considering translation work, I would need training in linguistics. I wasn't sure what "Linguistics" covered, but it sounded good. I had already taught myself all the grammar I could from Inge Cannon's Sentence Analysis course, but when we requested the final test from ATI Headquarters, no one could find a copy. That was a bitter disappointment! I arranged to spend June and July (the summer semester) studying at SIL and imagined myself following in the footsteps of heroines such as Elisabeth Elliot, Marianna Slocum, and Marilyn Laszlo.

It wasn't long before I heard back from Wycliffe. From the SIL-Philippines Branch, in particular. They could use my computer and office skills at their center on the southern island of Mindanao. Would I come? Yes; yes, I would, but I wanted to take the linguistics course first. I would plan to fly to Manila in September, assuming that nothing else more earthshaking presented itself!

For the next few weeks, I held my breath, waiting for someone to spill what was going on with Chris. Michael knew--he had been on the trip to Kansas and was still Chris's best friend. But either Dad had sworn him to secrecy or he relished my desperate curiosity. With no information forthcoming from any quarter, I threw myself into plans for change at work, where I felt admired and was rapidly becoming more useful.

Chris, meanwhile, eagerly awaited his upcoming visit. It had been over seven months since we had said goodbye after Lisa's wedding. And now the dynamics had changed dramatically! He had laid his cards on the table; the ball was now in my dad's court. The rules of Courtship dictated that he not show me any romantic attentions before getting my father's approval. But my dad had been silent after his Kansas visit. He didn't call, write, or email Chris, whose nervousness grew as the days passed. Well, there would be plenty of time for significant conversations at the farmhouse in Michigan. Perhaps my dad thought some things were better discussed in person. 

Late in May, Chris packed his suitcase into his tiny 1978 Fiat Spider and hit the interstate heading north. 

Continued at The Plot Thickens