Marriage counseling with Genevieve and Jim was a natural outcropping of living with them. The weekly sit-down workbook sessions we were doing per Joe's dad's request were really only an addendum to the practical and patient wisdom that came to us through them as we went about our day to day.
Thanksgiving Break arrived before I was ready. We packed the car for Rocky Mount to fulfill the second task. I was trying hard not to be bitter about missing Thanksgiving with Star and Adelaide, but I did want to see Joseph's family, especially the little ones.
Due to Joseph's mother's prowess in the kitchen, I had a slight desire to show her that I'm also alright in that arena. Because of this fact, and also because I didn't want to show up empty handed for Thanksgiving, I made a cake to bring along with us. It was a chocolate applesauce cake with buttercream icing that was an old recipe from my dad's side of the family. It was the one recipe I never failed at. In fact, when I made it for my friends in Oz, they had no sooner swallowed their first bite before asking me to marry them. I was confident in my applesauce cake making abilities, and I couldn't wait for Joe's mom to try it.
In the process of putting the cake together, I accidentally whipped up way too much icing. No harm, no foul, though. The Hanwells were happy to take that extra bowl of it off my hands. I covered it with plastic wrap and left it for them on the kitchen counter.
6 hours of sitting in the car with a cake in my lap later we arrived in Rocky Mount. As we hugged everyone hello, John politely relieved me of my cake-holding duties and took the deliciousness into the hallway/den that had been Joseph's room to deposit it on a table with other sugary things.
Joe's old room was sectioned off from the living room and the kitchen by sheets hung from the ceiling where the theoretical doors would have been.
Later that night, when his mom was finished preparing for Thanksgiving dinner the next night, she poked her head into the room through a sheet to tell us goodnight and point us in the direction of blow-up mattresses and blankets.
Amid bedtime instructions, she looked down and noticed my cake.
"Did you guys bring this?"
"Yeah, I made it.", I beamed pridefully.
"Are there eggs in the icing?"
"Did you refrigerate it on the way over?"
And with that she picked the whole thing up and dumped it in the trash.
"Goodnight you two!" She said, thoroughly chipper, "See you in the morning!"
"Goodnight!", I managed.
She didn't mean to hurt my feelings by throwing the cake away. She had no idea how excited I was for everyone to eat it, or how much work I had put into it. She was merely a bit overly cautious and didn't want her family ingesting raw egg. I understood that.
Though thoughts of all the unrefrigerated eggs I had eaten in Oz were parading through my head. They don't even refrigerate eggs in the grocery store there because the shelf life of eggs is surprisingly long.
Joseph saw my trying-not-to-cry-lest-my-contacts-go-all-blurry face and took me in his arms.
Thanksgiving dinner the next night was sweet. Joseph's grandma was there in all her charm. She took my ringed hand in hers and said, "You know if you marry him, it's for keeps, don't you?"
"Okay, I just had to make sure, you know. It's part of my job to check on things like that.", she said with a wink.
Joe's mom had invited her Brazilian neighbors over and their little girl was running all over the house with Nadia as if there was no tomorrow because they both knew they would soon part ways. Those friends were going back to Brazil in a few weeks. It was a bittersweet visit.
That peaceful day came to an end. The next was the one I had dreaded. Joseph's dad called us into the living room and handed us each a packet of 5 or 7 pages that he had typed up and stapled together. We took our seats.
He proceeded to go through each bullet point one by infuriating one.
At best, I felt talked down to. At worst, I felt attacked.
I bit my tongue through the elementary basics of Christianity that I was a bit hurt he thought I might not know.
I bit my tongue through matter-of-fact statements about the errancy of Catholicism. Even though I knew that he knew that was the denomination of my upbringing. That my mom was still a practicing Catholic.
It felt so disrespectful to my mom that he expected me to hear out this attack on her faith.
I held it together when he looked at me pointedly and stated that I was to believe that children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord. What was he trying to say? Of course I believed that. Did he think I didn't?
I felt like he was reading my diary without permission.
I tried not to feel so tense. To assign positive intent to this meeting. Perhaps it was all in my head and I just had an attitude I needed to shake off.
I finally lost my composure when he began telling us that God no longer speaks to people. That He stopped talking to anyone when the Bible was finished being written.
I disagreed so passionately with this statement, I heard my shaky voice refuting him before I could stop it.
He brought up the pink elephant I had seen in the clouds.
I shot Joseph a look. It was a look that said, "No! You can't have told him about that!"
Joseph's look back to me said he was deeply sorry.
That wasn't the only story his dad had heard.
I had to sit and listen while his dad picked apart precious things that had happened between me and my Savior. They weren't things that were meant to be examined or scrutinized.
They were times as dear to me as the moment a new mom holds her babe close in the night. When his cries fade into sleepy breaths and she closes her eyes to tell him that he is hers and she loves him.
You don't analyze that. You don't question whether the mother really loves her son or whether she would still speak if she was thinking about how the babe doesn't yet understand her words.
That kind of moment, you take into your heart... and you live on it.
And yet here he was, implying to me that I was dangerous if I thought that I could hear from God. That I was presumptuous, and possibly borderline blasphemous.
He asked me to tell him the story of Scarlett and Banjo's engagement. Somehow (I shot another look at Joseph, who really had to pee, but wasn't going to leave me) he knew that their's was another story wrought with miracles and moments of God-given clarity.
I would not see their treasure lit into. No no no no no. The madness would stop right there.
"I'm sorry, sir. That is not my story to tell."
"Wasn't there something about an old lady at church bringing Scarlett a..."
"We are not going to talk about Scarlett and Banjo's story. I feel strongly about this. Let's move on to another bullet point, shall we?"
The next thing on the agenda prompted him to remind me that in marriage, Joseph would be the leader. That I was to submit to him if I wanted to be a godly wife. For example, if Joseph said we were moving somewhere, we'd move. That would be that. He was always to have the final say if we disagreed.
I was biting my lips so hard I thought they might fall off. That arrangement may have worked out nicely in his marriage, but my thoughts on the matter were well developed. I had long been grateful that wife only submission wasn't even Scriptural. If it were, I would be in quite a pickle, given basically everything about my personality.
Mutual submission - in which both people in the relationship submit to one another in love, and seek the best for each other made so much more sense to me. If we stumbled on something we couldn't agree on, we would look to our God to work it out.
By the time he finished a monologue about the wisdom of Luther, said all the end formalities and asked Joseph's mom if she had anything to add (she didn't), I was emotionally exhausted and the packet he'd given me was rolled up tightly in my hands.
They stood up and each hugged us. Joseph's mom's eyes were wet with tears of joy (it seemed she had somehow missed all my brooding and attempts at arguing) for our engagement.
As soon as they let go, Joseph informed them that we were going out for pizza and would be back in a bit. I was never more grateful to walk outside into the crisp autumn air.
In the booth at the pizza place, I vented and ranted and vented some more. Joseph listened patiently, nodding in agreement and holding hands with me across the table.
When we got back to Cullowhee after that trip, it was late in the evening. We went into the kitchen for something to drink and ran into Genevieve, who asked how it had gone.
I took one look into her clear blue eyes and broke down in tears. Joseph explained that first his mom had unwittingly made me a little sad by throwing my cake away (to which Genevieve exclaimed, "What?! We have been eating off that icing you left us all week and never got sick in the least! We put it on everything! Cookies, graham crackers, toast!"), and then I attempted through sobs to explain how hard the talk with Joseph's dad had been on me.
Genevieve said that I should be seen as a catch. Nothing less.
Hugs and prayers. I felt a little better.
At least we had successfully completed the second task. And we would never have to do it again.