The details of moving to France cascaded around me like so many moving boxes stacked to the sky. They buried me: insurance, purchasing a car, renting my place in Texas, storing my things, shipping some things, the list seemed endless. One day, immobilized by fear, I sat in my overstuffed chair and called out, “God, HELP!”
Just then the phone rang. A man introduced himself as Ken’s brother, Everett. He said, “I hear you’re interested in renting your place.” Stupefied, I said yes. I hadn’t advertised or told hardly anyone, with only five weeks till my parting date I wasn’t coping well.
He said, “We’ll be right over.” He and his wife arrived ten minutes later, came in my front door, sat down on the couch surveying the L-shaped living room/dining room, they looked at each other, nodded and said, “We’ll take it.”
I said, “Wouldn’t you like to see it first?”
They said, “Well, we could, but we’ll take it. We’d like to pay $650 a month, would that be alright?”
I rented the other one for $550 which covered the mortgage. I calculated swiftly and figured after paying Noelle a caretaker’s fee and setting aside money to put on a new roof that would give me about $300 a month for living expenses in France. It was my first money to live on over there! I nodded incredulously, “Yes, that will be just fine.” We made the arrangements, signed a contract; they said they would move in July 15th, and they left. I spent a bit of time rejoicing and thanking God for such instant help!
With my air miles I got my ticket, and then I received a blow. Greg and Alice called to say they had a family emergency and were moving back to England. They would leave the three-story house for me to finish paying the three months left on the rent; they had already sold the extra car. But they would prepare all the Brits they knew in the Gulf to welcome me and attend my Bible studies. They would leave the key to the house with the next-door neighbor.
How on earth was I supposed to find the money for the French rent and to buy a car? I called the number Marie Louise gave me for the car dealer in Belgium and he said he had a Ford Scorpio that was the best used car he had found in years. He promised to save it for me. I didn’t know what a sacrifice that was until I saw the cramped space he had to work in. When he said he wanted $8000 for it my heart fell. I told him I only had $4000 and he said, “Don’t worry. By faith, you’ll have the $8000 when you get here.”
Then, out of nowhere, Nancy called. I hadn’t talked to her in months! She said, “Hey, can I come spend the summer with you, about six weeks’ worth? It’s too hot to stay here.” She ran a Prayer Home in Israel.
Taken aback, I said, “Sure, you’re always welcome; you know that, but I haven’t quite settled where I’m going to be staying. There’s a darling little village called La Garde de la Croix where Greg and Alice are expecting me to finish out their lease on a house, but I can’t afford the rent. On the other hand, Charles and Barbara have offered me a bedroom ten yards from the freeway. You can’t imagine how much noise and grit there is in that place! But the rent is free.”
Nancy said, “The apartment sounds atrocious, but the house in La Garde de la Croix sounds perfect. Why don’t I pay the rest of the rent and let’s go to that little village? It sounds like an adventure to me.” Then she asked, “Can you rent us a car?”
I gulped, “I’m hoping to buy one. In fact, a used one is reserved for me in Brussels, if I can come up with the money.”
She asked, “How much money? I said the car is $8,000, and I only have $4,000.”
She said, “Let me pay for the car. I probably would spend that much just to rent a car in France for six weeks.” That solved all my problems. Nancy and I were headed for an antiquated village perched on a mountain top with cobblestone streets, some being too narrow for a cart to pass through, much less a car.
I packed my belongings, rented a truck, leased a storage space, and a couple I met only once came and moved my things from my house to the storage space. God was supplying in every area! I had the rugs cleaned, the chimney swept, the walls washed, but there were little items nagging at me, like the hall closet that I forgot to pack, the running toilet in the master bath that needed a new interior, and touch up painting on the wall.
And I had to drop it all to trek across country. Dan’s graduation from his program had been scheduled for July 2nd, but they moved it to June 28th so that Noelle and I could drive to Tennessee to attend. Dan had signed up for another six-month session, and our intent was to bring Dan home with us, he would take a week’s vacation with Noelle and then drive the car back to Tennessee, since he had gotten it in the divorce proceedings.
When we left for the graduation, I was way behind. Noelle’s marriage was coming to an explosive end, which was the main reason for me being so dreadfully behind in my moving procedures. I had become the interloper, not by design but by responding to their quasi invitations. Either I was counseling Noelle, talking to her husband, or counseling the grandchildren.
Bridget called me one night, “Meme, please come over here.” She whimpered. “Daddy’s leaving. He’s got his bag packed, and he’s sitting on the car. Come over here and talk him out of it.” This was the fifth time this scenario of prepared flight had presented itself. Following each of the four successful attempts at stalling the trajectory. Noelle told me to let him go.
Moonlight cascaded over the lawn as I sauntered between the houses. Bridget peeked around the corner to be sure I was enroute. If ever there was a man who lived to belie his name, it was Lancelot Cooper. “Hi Lance. Beautiful night, huh. How are you?”
Lance sat on the hood of their battered car with his heels hooked into the bumper, his head hung in his hands, and his thin lips did not open to give me an answer. I leaned up against the hood so we were side by side. Noelle had married her father, a man who belittled her, who hated her, literally. After some silence, I asked, “Want to talk about it?”
“Not with you.” He managed to spit out.
I sighed. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we pretend that I am not Noelle’s mother? You can speak freely, get it off your chest, and I won’t be offended. How’s that?”
“Okay!” He jumped down from the car and stood in front of me planting his fists on his hips like a sergeant swinging into action before his quavering privates. I figured Lance was about to keep his part of the bargain I just presented him, but I wasn’t sure I could keep mine. I already had a list a mile long racked against him.
“She’s spoiled! You’ve spoiled her rotten!”
“Lance,” I smiled. “Remember? Now are you saying her parents have spoiled her?”
He begrudged a smile. “Yes!” He swung back into action. “They give her anything she wants.”
“Gosh, Lance. Her parents have been out of money, now, let’s see, for almost two years, I believe. What do they give her?”
He stamped his foot, and I noticed he wore his military boots. “They always take her side, especially her mother. She thinks Noelle is always right. Her mother tells her she is a great mother to my daughters, but she’s not.”
I knew I didn’t need to ask why not because the diatribe was coming. Having heard it many times before, although usually from Noelle, I could have recited it: clothes not folded, toys scattered everywhere, dinner had no fixed hour, bedtime hodgepodge.
I listened and rejoined, “for all that you think she is a bad mother.”
“The worst!” His face contorted.
“Did you ever stop to think how your house is the center of all neighborhood activity for the kids? Noelle has a full house every day. She’s always playing with the kids, doing crafts, cooking things. The kids in the neighborhood think she’s the greatest mother on the block.”
“Well, I don’t! I also think she’s a terrible wife, and her mother tells her she’s a great wife! Her mother’s opinion doesn’t count.” He pointedly paused and fixed me with a piercing glare. “My opinion counts! It’s my family, and I’m the one who decides what’s right and what isn’t!” His lips curled into a macabre mask.
Suppressing an exasperated sigh, knowing I had asked for this, I put forth a dangerous question. “What makes you think she’s not a good wife?”
“When I come home, I want the house in order, the kids should be ready for bed, dinner should be on the table, and Noelle in the kitchen. Instead, she’s out on the lawn talking with the other mothers, who also ought to be in their houses with dinner ready, except for her, she’s the problem in the neighborhood. The house is a mess and . . .”
“Lance,” I interrupted. “This is the 21st century. Life is more casual. Even when I raised my kids, it didn’t work that way.”
“It worked in my father’s house. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.”
“Let me ask you, Lance: aren’t you supposed to take care of the garage and Noelle the house? Isn’t that your arrangement with her?” He nodded like someone about to be trapped. “Your garage is a lot messier than your house.”
His arms extended down his sides with his fists clenched and he shouted, “That’s different.”
Deciding I was provoking him I asked, “well, how else does Noelle’s mother spoil her?”
“She encourages her to invite her friends over here. Every Sunday there’s a party in our yard, a potluck dinner, and people come from church, they come from the neighborhood,” he threw his arms about, “who knows where they come from.”
“Lance, I’ve been at every one of those parties, and they don’t happen every Sunday, I might add, but I have never seen you attend one of them. What kind of a husband are you?”
“I don’t like parties. I don’t want people in my house. I have to stay locked up in my bedroom to get away from them. And as for me,” he glared at me intently, “I’m the best kind of husband. No one could be better to their wife than I am to her.”
“Do you give her affection? I’ve never seen you touch her in a loving way. Do you compliment her? I’ve never heard you say a kind word to her or about her. Do you satisfy her sexually?” I knew I’d gone too far, so I didn’t answer the question for him, but I was beginning to seethe.
“She doesn’t deserve to be touched in a loving way, and what could I say that would be kind? Nothing! And as for sex, that’s her problem. I’m satisfied.” He sneered.
I folded my arms to keep from striking him. He continued, “I’ll tell you what! I’m the best thing that ever happened to her. She’s lucky I came along. No one else would have taken her. She ought to be grateful I had charity in my heart!”
With that I faced him down, getting within inches of his nose, I monotoned, “The problem with your marriage from the beginning, Lancelot Cooper, has been your self-righteousness! You think putrid thoughts about your wife, and that prevents you from seeing the good. You place yourself so far above her, in some lofty height that she can never achieve! I’m surprised she does as well as she does. With a husband like you I’d cut my throat!”
I ached for my beautiful, gifted daughter being so unappreciated and so emotionally defiled! Lance picked up his packed duffel bag and stormed back into the house. I waited out front to calm myself down. I’d never lost control like that. Up until that moment I had restrained myself, remained calm and tried to talk some sense into him. Imagining all sorts of malaise resulting from my eruption, I wondered if he’d get his gun (oh how I hated that he had that thing and that he kept it loaded!) and shoot Noelle. I also waited to see if he would charge back out, but instead Bridget sneaked out the back door, came flying around the corner and threw her arms around my waist, “Thanks, Meme!”
“What happened when he came back in?” I asked.
“He threw his duffel bag at mama and said, “I’m not leaving, okay!” Bridget sassed, mimicking her Dad.
“Bridge,” I warned, “someday he just may leave, and if he does, it may be better for everybody.”
She rested her head against my midriff, “I know. He’s mean. But it’s better to have a dad, than not to have a dad.
In my state of agitation over this situation I had almost decided to call off the move to France, even though I would now have to find a place to live. But the Lord appeared to me in a dream and said, “Go to France. I’ll take care of everything at home. Don’t look back. Don’t allow yourself to worry about it because I will make it work together for good.”
By the time Noelle and I got in the car to go to Tennessee, even though I was days away from being ready to leave for France, I welcomed the peace and controlled quiet of the drive and the memory-making joy of having Noelle to myself. We talked nonstop on the twelve-hour drive, gobbling up our time together. Being a daughter who perfectly matches my dreams of having one, I just like being in her presence, listening to her chatter, following her around, picking up after her, and staring at her by the hour. She satisfies every desire I have ever had about a mother-daughter relationship. I didn’t allow myself to think about being half a world away from her. God would bring us together again, in that I trusted, but for now I was grateful for the drive.
We arrived at The Farm in daylight, so Dan’s habitation didn’t seem so frightening. This time we had a nicer place to stay. They had converted an office into a guest bedroom and sweetly decorated it; a married staff couple lived downstairs, so we didn’t rattle around the building alone. Compared to the way the men lived, it was heaven itself.
Dan had moved. He now occupied an upper bunk; the ceiling was much higher here, in a distinguished large room in the Farmhouse. The three standardized, sturdy bunk-beds stood against the walls, but there the comparison ended as all six men could be standing, or even sitting in chairs, in the remaining floor space. Dan’s bunk sported a little clip-on fan attached to the railing, a mirror, a radio, an imposing alarm clock and a little bookshelf holding tissue, his Bible and other accessories. He was so well supplied I almost looked for the popcorn popper.
I finally met Ruth. She said she wanted to be informed when Dan and I remarried because she knew it was going to happen sometime, somewhere in the world. Most of the men we met in January had graduated and gone on, the faces were mostly new. The men seemed to genuinely like Dan and encouraged him on his big day. They were impressed that Noelle and I came, as they weren’t accustomed to anyone attending graduations outside of themselves. Most of these haunted men had so alienated themselves from family and friends that no one cared anymore.
The Farm covered many acres, mostly rolling hills. Behind the buildings, a grassy knoll stretched from the confining fence to the river below marking the edge of their property. Situated on the crest before the matted grass descending to the valley, sat a single bench. From there one could survey God’s creation as one prayed. In the glen to the left, created by two hills running down to meet each other, forested and dotted with boulders, the men had fashioned a prayer trail. Along the path were hand-painted signs quoting Scriptures. The trail bottomed out in a clearing beside the river where a fire-pit had been built with stones ringed around it for seating.
Dan and I took the trail early on the morning of his graduation. The further down we went the more aware I became of how tender and precious this wooded canyon had become to Dan and how delicate was this sharing of his intimate world, his own cathedral. We didn’t talk. We stopped and read each sign out loud and coming to the end we sat on the stones.
After a while I said, “I can see you now know God for yourself.”
He whispered, “Yes.” Then he added in a husky voice, “I hear Him best down here.”
After another silence I asked, “Do you think you’ve gotten over the homosexuality?”
He didn’t look at me, “I’m concentrating on knowing the Lord, and I think I’ve made a lot of progress there.”
I agreed. “I think so too, but you came here to get rid of the homosexuality. Have you done that?”
It was his turn to be silent. He leaned back on his rock, his hands clasped together around one knee to balance himself. He turned his head toward the river and softly said, “No.” Honesty was a virtue the program insisted on.
The path created a circle continuing up the grassy knoll and pausing at the bench. We mounted the summit and sat on the bench. He told me how grateful he was to be there, and I felt the same. Dan may finish out his life on The Farm and frankly, I can’t think of a better place for him to be. We could see the director walking the border of the property. Dan said he did that every morning, praying over the place, praying for each man there.
The graduation ceremony was part of a church service. Dan’s counselor gave the talk, and he said he had never encountered anyone with such a hardened heart toward God, but he could honestly say Dan was changing. I struggled inside. I’m not responsible for him anymore but the weight of it hangs on.
Dan came back with us to Texas as planned. I asked if he would help me finish the odds and ends before I left, and he agreed. He took me out to lunch and told me this was all part of the courtship process. It reminded me of Herb telling me he knew how to take care of women. Whatever it was, I was grateful for the help. On July 1, for the third time, I left for France.
Writing has been in my blood, so to speak, but when I surren-dered my life to Jesus Christ and He told me to write, all my trepidations rolled away and I began in earnest! After all, if God Almighty says it was His idea that I be a writer, who am I to stand in His way? My hope is that you not only like what I write, but that your life is moved by it, and that your party to Jesus and with Jesus turns your life into days of Heaven on Earth.