A few days after Eddie and Maggie's visit, Joseph loped in from where he had been sitting, cross-legged, on the hood of my car outside. I heard the phone in his hand flip shut and turned to see that he had his concerned eyebrows on.
"What's goin' on?"
He only sighed heavily in response and sat down beside me, pressing his face into his hands.
I existed quietly next to him for a time until at last he squinted up at me through his fingers and said, as gently as he could muster, "It's my dad. He has three... tasks. Three tasks for us to complete if we are to obtain his blessing to get married."
"Tasks?" I must have looked quizzical. Part of me was a little excited at the prospect of three tasks to complete. What would they be? Oh, the mystery!
Perhaps he would have us rescuing an abandoned kitten, creating an original origami design, and watching a whole season of Whose Line is it Anyway! Or, maybe his blessing would be upon us if we built a pirate ship out of Pop-tarts, made sandwiches for some homeless people, and performed a kazoo and harmonica duet!
Another part of me, though, was a might irritated. Didn't he know that it was the fair maiden's father, who gave the handsome young man tasks in order to obtain a marital blessing? Not the young man's father! Joseph's dad must have read all the wrong stories.
"What does he want us to do?"
Joseph answered me with the kindest tone he possessed, "He wants us to get marriage counseling from a non-biased professional who has never met us, for us to concede to sit down with him over Thanksgiving break and let him tell us everything about what being married means and how to live as a godly Christian, and to fast each other for a week over Christmas."
Marriage counseling from someone who didn't know us? A professional? With what money? And also, no way! The last thing I wanted was to discuss our relationship with a stranger. I pictured telling the stove knob story to someone I'd only just met and started feeling hot all over.
Diagnosed with A.D.D. at a young age, I have a sensitive history with mental health professionals. I did not feel safe with that demand.
Joseph knew it. His eyebrows said so.
I was surprised and relieved when he was able to talk his dad into changing that requirement to "marriage counseling with Genevieve and Jim".
Still, I wasn't sold. I felt intuitively that a talk with Joe's dad would be stressful and end badly. And the fast? I saw fasting as a spiritual discipline. Something to do voluntarily in conjunction with prayer to focus more on God. I had never fasted because it had been demanded of me. I saw it as reason enough not to fast if there simply wasn't grace for it. If the longing for the thing I was giving up was so overwhelming that I gave prayer and meditation even less thought than I had to begin with, I had enormous difficulty viewing it as something that brought me closer into my Father's courts in any way.
Of course, if I'm honest, I must admit that I was also less than thrilled with the idea of being somewhat coerced into having zero contact with Joseph for a week. Christmas week, no less.
"What does he mean by 'have his blessing to be married'?", I inquired.
Joseph speculated, "I guess it means he would be okay with our engagement and our wedding?"
"But... what about our marriage?"
"He believes that marriage is sacred. So, after we got married, he'd have to be okay with it. His standards are pretty rigid. I don't see him wavering from them."
"So... if we don't do the tasks (except the marriage counseling with Genevieve and Jim, I'm okay with that part), he will be opposed to our relationship until we get married?"
"But after that we'd have his blessing anyway?"
"Okay. I can live with that. I choose, let's not do the tasks."
It was sound wisdom from Genevieve that changed our minds. It would honor him and get us off on a better foot to be adults about this as much as possible.
It wouldn't destroy us, and it obviously meant a lot to him. I took a deep breath and, cringing, agreed to comply.