Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chapter 40, part 2: Going Home

The plane touched down at John Wayne Airport in Orange County just as the sun went down. I waited until I got off the plane to call Daddy at his office. “Daddy, I’m at the airport. Can you and Mom pick me up? I’ll tell you everything when you get here.”

They drove up to the curb outside baggage claim in Mom’s silver SUV. Mom jumped out and crushed me in a hug. “Gigi. This is such a surprise. We’re so glad to see you, whatever the reason. Ruth’s staying over at a friend’s house tonight. Can you tell us what this is about?”

“I’m starved. Let’s eat first. I’ll tell you after dinner.”

We made small talk while Mom cooked and as we ate. As we took our last few bites, Daddy said, “What could be so important that it was worth putting another plane ticket on your credit card? I thought I raised you girls to be wiser with money than this.”

“Frank, please,” Mom interrupted. “I don’t think this is time for a lecture.”

She and I cleared the table and the joined Daddy on the couch in the living room. Mom touched my arm. “Giselle, I can see there is something different about you. Something big must have happened. Are you ready to tell us what it is?”

Was I ready? I thought I was but Daddy’s harping on my money management made me unsure. Would he take the news of my pregnancy any better than he had handled my crashing his favorite car?

“I’m not sure where to start.” I stammered.

“How about the beginning?” Daddy suggested.

“The beginning … OK.” I sent up a silent prayer for strength and forged ahead. “I thought I was a Christian, but it turns out I didn’t really understand God’s grace at all. I worked so hard to earn his love that I wore myself out. This guy Brad came along and promised to love me in a way I hadn’t ever felt loved before, and well … one thing led to another.”

“And now you’re pregnant?” Mom said.

“Yes,” I said quietly. “But just let me finish, please.”

“Giselle,” Daddy said, putting his arm around me. “Before you go on. You need to hear how much your mother and I love you. And we will love your baby too.”

Mom murmured agreement, tears in her eyes. “This whole thing breaks my heart.”

“Me too,” Daddy said, arm still around me.

A wave of shame swept over me. I didn’t mean to bring them such pain. Yet Daddy still kept his arm around me. He did love me as much as he said. After we three cried together for a moment, Daddy prompted me to finish the story.

“I felt convicted and tried to repent and Brad dumped me over it. It was just then when I was at my lowest that God showed up and helped me to finally understand his grace and love. And then I found out about the baby. That was Monday. Tuesday evening I gave a talk at our campus Christian group telling people about God’s grace and the availability of forgiveness for all kinds of sins.”

Mom pulled me into a hug. “Oh, my precious girl. That was so brave.”

I continued, “The story’s not quite done there though. This morning, Brad proposed. He wanted me to elope with him right then, but I told him I needed more time to consider his offer.”

Mom and Daddy looked at each other, then at me.

“I’m so glad you didn’t elope,” Daddy said. “I didn’t want to say anything when you were home at Christmas, but even if he’s the father of this baby, he’s not right for you. I didn’t like the way he subtly undercut you and put you down then, and now that I know how he failed to respect your body …” Anger flashed in his eyes. “I can’t make the decision for you of course, but please,please take my advice into account as you think and pray about this.”

“Don’t worry, Daddy. The plane ride here gave me lots of time to think,” I said. “All along I wondered why nobody but me could see how wonderful he was. Mom and Kirsten didn’t like him, my friends warned me about him. I just figured they didn’t know him like I did. But you hit on something when you say he subtly undercut me. He always made me question myself. I knew I didn’t like the way he treated his mom, but it wasn’t until today that I realized: he had been treating me the same way.”

We talked late into the night about logistics around school and the baby. We decided I could finish the semester and then transfer home to a community college or Cal State Citrus Valley so Mom could help with child care.

“God has a wonderful plan for your life, Giselle,” Mom said as we finally headed up the stairs to bed.

“I believe that too, Mom.”  Maybe I'd never get married. Being a single mom for the rest of my life would be a challenge, but Jesus would be there with me every step of the way. Life would be good.

“Giselle Gertrude Gottlieb, we love you and are so proud of you,” Daddy said.

I laughed with delight. “I don’t know why it took me so long to get how much God loves me,” I said. “It’s been staring me in the face every time I write our last name.”

“How so?” Mom asked.

“Gottlieb. It means love of God in German.”

Chapter 40 part 1: Proposal

As soon as I got back to my room in the German house I immediately called Kirsten to talk about what had happened.

“I just can’t get over it,” she said. “He was in my Religion 101 class. I feel so bad for his parents. Speaking of parents, are you ready to go home this weekend? Have you told Mom and Daddy you’re coming?”

“I don’t think it’s something I can say on the phone or on Skype. I just need to get home and then we can talk everything over in person.”

I didn’t bother contacting Brad. Still, I wondered why he hadn’t come looking for me. I hadn’t directly told him about our baby, but surely word had gotten to him through the Elkie Grapevine by now?

Friday morning a knock on my door woke me.

It was Brad. “I’m glad you’re still here!” he said when I emerged from my room, a robe over my flannel pajamas. “Owen told me you were going out of town for the weekend. When are you leaving?”

He didn’t mention the baby. Maybe he hadn’t heard that part of the story?

“In a few hours,” I said. “Ian’s taking me to the airport.”

“Maybe you don’t have to go emptyhanded,” Brad said.

“What do you mean?”

He pulled a velvet box out of his pocket and got down on one knee. “Marry me. We can go over to the courthouse this afternoon. You can apply for financial aid and enroll in the local community college, or you can just wait until I graduate from here and you can finish school wherever you want, when Junior is a little older.”

Tears sprung to my eyes. “Oh, Brad!” I said and hugged him tight. He did love me!

“So I take that as a yes? Let’s go buy you a wedding outfit. Who can we take as witnesses?”

The practical questions brought me back to reality. What about my promise to Zoey to talk to her first if I was going to get back together with him? And did I really want to raise a baby with someone like Brad?

But if I didn’t marry him, who would ever take me? I was sure all Christian guys wanted to share their first time with their wife. I couldn’t offer that to anyone anymore. As much as I loved this baby, I knew he or she was like a living announcement of that fact. But then again, I didn’t want to get married in a courthouse either.

“Not today, Brad. I have to go home, at least for the weekend, to tell my parents what is going on. I’ll think and pray about it. Maybe we will get married one day, but not like this. Can you wait?”

“Sounds like I don’t have any choice.  At least let me hang out with you today before you go?”

Zoey came out from her room into the hall just then.  "Giselle, good you're up. Hurry up and get ready, or did you forget? Sorry, Brad, but the girls and I are taking her out for a goodbye breakfast, no boys allowed."  She winked at me.  

I smiled back, grateful to her for looking out for me once again.  I didn't know how I was going to answer Brad, but I definitely needed the space.

Chapter 39, part 2: Life is Messy

The Quad was unusually crowded with people when I walked to class the next morning. I caught snippets of conversation as I went past. Someone was dead, but I couldn’t make out who or why.

I spotted Sylvie and Jenny and rushed over to them. Tears streamed down their faces. Where was Breanne?

“What’s going on, girls?” Fear and regret gripped my heart as I waited for the answer. I had never apologized to Breanne for how badly I handled that ill-advised confrontation last semester. She couldn’t be dead, could she?

“It’s Melissa’s kid brother,” answered Sylvie. “They found him this morning in Reid. Suicide.”

“Here, look, it’s all over the news,” Jenny said as she shoved her phone into my hand.

Anti-gay bullying leads to another teen suicide, read the headline.

My heart went out to Melissa’s parents, losing a son. As intense my grief at my potential miscarriage had been, it was only a fraction of what they must be feeling.

That afternoon someone from the administration pulled me out of my first class and escorted me to the office of the college president. Was Rev. Reynolds’ right to warn me?

“Giselle, thank you for coming. Take a seat,” she said.

“What’s this about?”

“You probably heard that an Elk River student committed suicide last night.”
“I did. He was the brother of a friend of mine. I’m in shock. But why am I here?” Were my words last night considered hate speech? Was I about to be expelled?

“We’re investigating what role, if any, members of the student body may have had in his death.”

“How can I help? I never actually met him.”

“But it seems you may be acquainted with one of his alleged bullies. Do you know a Robert Grimes?”

This was about Rob! “Yes. He was the boyfriend of my roommate last year.”

“Ah yes, Lacey Johnson. She is my next interview. Do you have anything to report that may help us understand his typical behavior or identify any other potential victims?”

“I think I do. One of my best friends is gay,” I began, but trailed off as guilt stabbed through me. If Breanne really were one of my best friends, why hadn’t I tried to set things right or even spoken to her after that horrible stupid confrontation? I took a deep breath and continued. “Rob called her derogatory names when talking about her with me. And she told me that he harassed her.”

The president flipped through her notes. “I believe we’ve already interviewed your friend, a Miss Gonzalez? She is the one who suggested that we speak with you. Thank you, you are free to go.”

On my way out, I saw Lacey waiting near the reception desk. “I’m sorry,” was all I could say.

“Don’t be. I’m sure you told the truth, just like I am going to. I shouldn’t have put up with Rob’s cruelty to others as long as I did. I thought he was so spiritual. I’m only sorry it took something so tragic to open my eyes to his true nature.”

We hugged and she headed toward the president’s office. Before going in, Lacey turned. “Can you wait for me? I’d love to catch up.”

“I’d really like that, but I’m going to have to take a rain check. There is someone I owe an apology to.”

I just hoped Breanne would hear me out.

I had just stepped out of the administration building on to the Quad when my phone rang.

It was Breanne. “Did you get my text? I wanted to give you a heads up that I gave your name to President Hunt.”

“Don’t know how I missed it, but she already had me in her office. I told her everything I could. Hey, are you free to meet up? I miss hanging out.”

Breanne and I agreed to meet in her room at the Volleyball house that afternoon.

While we discussed Melissa’s brother and Rob, she cleared a space for me on her bed, moving aside an open Bible and notebook. Looked like she had kept her word about following Jesus without CSF.

“Not to change the subject, but Jenny told me about the baby,” Breanne said. “You doing okay?”

“A little queasy all the time, and not sure how I’m going to do this, but surprisingly, yeah. I’m doing okay.”

“Your faith is so strong. You’ll get through this.”

“It’s been a lot shakier than I’ve let on. I’ve doubted everything: my salvation, whether God meant what he said, and even His very existence.”

“Your faith? Shaky? I can’t get over that. You’re like my spiritual hero. I thought I was the only one who had doubts and struggles.”

“Far from it. Our struggles aren’t all that different in fact. Even before I started having sex with Brad, I’d been feeling guilty about reading sexy stories but not able to stop. I thought God was angry with me all the time.”

“I know that feeling,” Breanne said. “That’s why it hit me so hard when Ian said God loved me. I still have trouble believing it sometimes, but He shows me every day that it’s true. Sylvie has been a big help too.”

I nodded. “I love that girl! Sylvie is the one who helped me see God’s invitation to come running for forgiveness.”

“Sounds like things aren’t so shaky anymore then?”

“It’s completely different. God used this whole situation to show me how broken I am and how much I need His grace, but more, how abundant that grace is. I shared a testimony about it this week at Soulfire, when I told everyone about the baby. I wish you had been there to hear it, but I understand why you weren’t. I’m so sorry for the part I played in making you feel unwelcome.”

“Thanks for saying that. I forgive you. I realized almost instantly that I had overreacted, but my stupid pride kept me away. I should have been honored that you guys cared enough about me to call me on stuff like that. Being with Lori the way I was, at least outside of a real commitment, was not God’s best for me.”
I still wasn’t sure if God approved of any homosexual relationship, but it didn’t feel right to say anything to Breanne about it. A lot of the Biblical patriarchs had more than one wife, but that didn’t stop God from being in their lives. I was pregnant, and God was still inviting me to deeper relationship with Him. Life was messy and we were sinners, but it seemed like God’s plan allowed for that as he journeyed with us.

Chapter 39, part 1: Testimony

That night at Soulfire, as I stood to speak, I prayed silently for God to give me courage and the right words to say.

“I’m a leader in CSF. Some of you might look up to me. But I’m here tonight to tell you that I’m the most wretched of sinners. I struggle with lustful thoughts and actions. Last semester, I got involved in a sexual relationship. Over Christmas break, I thought I was pregnant. I was scared but also felt so much love toward the possible little person inside me. But I didn’t know for sure, and was too ashamed to find out. I hadn’t told the father yet when I started bleeding. I thought I lost the baby or maybe there never had been a baby. That day my relationship fell apart too. I was devastated. I had lost my boyfriend, my baby and I felt sure I had lost my relationship with God too. I felt abandoned and condemned. I wanted to repent but didn’t know how could God ever forgive me when I knew better.”

Every eye in the room was glued to me. I could see the surprise written on their faces. Sylvie and Kirsten smiled encouragingly.

“God sent a friend to call me back to himself.” I smiled back at Sylvie. “This friend let me know I wasn’t alone in my struggles. We’re created to be sexual beings, and getting the balance right at our age is difficult for all of us.” I saw nods of agreement around the room.

I paused for a moment, searching carefully for the least controversial way to say what I had to say next.

“But God also showed me that sin is sin. Sexual sins aren’t in a different category. They aren’t any less forgivable. God can forgive any sex outside of marriage, whether hetero, homo or … well, solo,” I said. I waited for the giggles to die down. “Yes, those are all sins. The good news though is that His forgiveness is available to all who ask for it. What are we waiting for?”

I continued sharing the lessons of grace and love. The child who scrapes their knee and runs to daddy. The Father who wants to whirl us up into a big bear hug.

“God showed me so much grace that I can’t help but want to tell everybody about it. But my story doesn’t end there. This weekend I found out that I am still pregnant. That precious little life is still with me.” There was some scattered applause.

Becky and the other leaders gathered in the back of the room, conferring together as I led the group in a closing prayer. I thought about joining them, but a wave of exhaustion hit. When Kirsten asked me to walk back with her, I jumped at the chance to get out of there. I could sort things out with my former co-leaders later.

When we reached the East Hill, Kirsten and I lingered in the lobby of Warner, saying our goodbyes. “You were so brave tonight. I want you to know that God used your testimony in at least one way. It encouraged me that God does want to hear from me. For the first time I told Him everything that had been worrying me. And, as soon as I prayed about it, I experienced such peace. I still don’t know if that kiss meant anything. But now I am absolutely sure God loves me no matter what.”

Ian came by my room the next day. “Gigi, do you have a minute to come downstairs and talk?”

I followed him down to the living room, where the other ten CSF leaders lay in wait along with Reverend Reynolds.

“Giselle, have a seat,” Rev. Reynolds said, gesturing to a chair set across the room from the long sofas where the group sat. “I assume you know what this is about.”

“My testimony?”

“You’ve got it. A few of the leaders told me they wanted to have this discussion last night, but you disappeared.”

“My sister needed to talk.”

“Becky, Giselle, some of the other leaders came to me with concerns about what happened last night. I wasn’t there, but Becky, I understand you were supposed to lead.” Reverend Reynolds said. “Were you in on this?”

“No. Giselle asked me if she could give a testimony and I approved. I guess I should have asked her more about it. Had I known the topic and what she planned to say, I never would have agreed to let her lead.”

“And why didn’t any of you interrupt the talk or stop her once it was clear what she was going to share?” Rev. Reynolds asked the others. “Like I said, I wasn’t there and don’t fully understand the concern. Did it get explicit? Was it inappropriate for mixed audiences?”

“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad until the closing,” Rhys said.

“Yeah, confessing her sin and admitting to struggle like that was right on, and I think it’s something our group needs more of,” Ewan added. “She was tasteful, saying just enough to let us know what had happened.”

“So what’s the problem? Why did some of you think we needed to confront Giselle today?” Rev. Reynolds asked.

Dwayne answered. “I for one was uncomfortable during the entire talk. But I could get over that, if she had stepped down as a leader at the end. But I just couldn’t let it go when she all but said that God tolerates homosexual behavior.”

“Did you miss the part where I’m pregnant? Since I’m probably dropping out of school, I figured resigning from CSF leadership was a given,” I said. “But I think you misheard what I said about homosexuality. I said all kinds of sexual relationships outside of marriage are a sin like any other sin, forgivable like any other sin. Isn’t that true?”

“It’s technically true, but it doesn’t go far enough. The way you said it implies that gay marriage would be acceptable. And in context with your whole feel-good, God loves us talk, I’m afraid some people will get the impression that any kind of sexual sin is no big deal,” he said, then mocked, “‘Go ahead, sleep around, be gay, everyone is doing it and God doesn’t care as long as you ask for forgiveness. You don’t have to stop sinning to come join us at CSF.’”

“I’m fairly certain I was clear that God does care. I called sin what I am sure is sin.”

“So you admit you don’t think gay marriage is wrong?”

I couldn’t answer. The truth was I still didn’t know.

“Giselle’s beliefs aren’t on trial here,” Ian said. 

I looked at him, grateful for the support. 

Ian continued, “But if the orthodoxy of our beliefs is up for examination, Dwayne, did I just hear you say people have to stop sinning to join CSF? In that case, I think I might have to step down as a leader too.” He gestured to his girth. “My struggles with gluttony are no secret. And perhaps we should all resign as leaders for breaking Biblical injunctions to refrain from anger, strife and dissension. We’ve had more than our fair share of that this semester.”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Dwayne protested.

Ewan jumped in, “Or is it only this one category of sinner? Would we kick out someone who struggled with regularly losing their temper? Someone with an eating disorder? An alcoholic?”

The same old arguments about worldliness versus isolation began again. After a few minutes of back and forth, I interrupted.

“Well, God’s blessings on you as you figure it out. Since I’ll be stepping down as Dwayne suggested, I don’t have much to add.”

Rev. Reynolds took me aside as I prepared to leave. “Ms. Gottlieb, I think you may have a greater problem than you realize. Are you aware of the college’s new hate speech policy?”

“Vaguely. Why?”

“I know the president is very sensitive to any hint of talk against homosexuality, especially from religious circles. We need to pray that she hasn’t heard about this.”

Chapter 38, part 2: Surprise Meetings

At breakfast the next morning I told Zoey the whole story.

“What did I tell you, Giselle? You can’t believe a word he says. He’s a master manipulator.”

“What am I going to do? I said I would meet him for lunch.”

“Just don’t show up. You don’t owe him anything.”

On the walk back to the German House after breakfast, a strong wave on nausea hit and I retched in a bush on the side of the walkway.  I spent the rest of the morning feeling miserable, unable to keep anything down.  Finally Zoey insisted on driving me over to the campus health clinic.

“Giselle! Long time no see, as it should be.” Dr. Swanson smiled and shook my hand. “I’m so glad you made a full recovery from that mystery illness you had last year. What brings you in today?” she asked.

“I’ve been feeling run down for about a week, and this morning I vomited a few times. I’m still not feeling all that hot, so thought I should get it checked out. A friend said it might be food allergies or something?”

“Well, let’s rule out other causes first. Could you be pregnant?”

“I thought I could have been, but …” tears choked out the rest of the sentence.

“You think you may have lost the baby?” she said gently.

I nodded. “I started bleeding last Sunday.”

“Tell me about this bleeding. How long did it last? What were you doing before it started?”

“I had just had sex with my boyfriend. It lasted just a few hours, but it was pretty heavy. I wasn’t that far along … I figured there wasn’t very much to come out.” It sounded ridiculous when I said it out loud. Had I been in denial?

“Hmmm… I want you to take a test anyway. Based on your other symptoms and what you told me, it’s possible that you are still pregnant. If you are, we can discuss your options. If not, then I can refer you to a specialist in Avondale if you want to pursue the food allergy angle."

She gave me a cup to pee in and showed me to the restroom. My hands shook as I tried to get the sample. Still pregnant? Could it really be true?

If it were, there were no options to discuss. I knew it meant confessing all to my parents and maybe dropping out of school, but I didn’t care. I loved this baby who God had restored to me. I would trust Him to make a way for us.

Dr. Swanson came back into the room with the confirmation. My baby who I thought was dead still lived and grew. And now I had a much better idea of what I was going to say at Soulfire on Tuesday night.

Monday afternoon, I spotted Kirsten across the Quad. I ran to catch up to her.

“Kirsten. I'm so glad to see you.  We need to talk. Do you have a minute?” We went to a study room on the side of the student center.

After we settled in on either side of a study table, I told her the whole story of Brad and the baby, ending with an apology for not giving her a straight answer that night in Denny’s. “You were brave to bring it up, and I missed an opportunity to be honest with you. Who knows? Maybe I could have saved myself a lot of heartache.”

Kirsten came over and gave me a hug, then sat down next to me. “I don’t know what I’m having a harder time believing: that I’m going to be an aunt or that you were so brave to spill your guts like that just now. I need to be brave too. Can I tell you what I was too afraid to say that night?”

I nodded. She bit her lip and looked away as if summoning up her courage.

“I’ve been so, so … let’s say confused. About my sexuality. Heidi and I kissed each back in high school. Just once, because we were imagining what it would be like to kiss a boy. But it scared me. Especially when all the rumors started. That’s why I rushed into an engagement with Charlie. I even let things with him go farther than I should have, hoping to prove to myself that I’m straight. But I’m still worried that the kiss meant something. And, like you, I’ve been too ashamed to bring the feelings to anyone, especially God.”

“I’m glad we can talk about it now,” I said. “I’m so sorry for shutting you out when you were right about Brad all along."

"Ugh.  I wish I weren't."

"I'll be okay. I hope God gives you peace.”

“Me too.”

I hugged her, relieved to be on good terms again. I’d been blaming her for giving me the silent treatment since we argued about Brad. How could I have known she was going through such a painful struggle?

“So how are you going to tell Mom and Daddy they’re going to be grandparents?” Kirsten asked as we headed back to the East Hill.

“I think I have to fly home to do it,” I said. “I bought a ticket for this weekend.”

“Are you going to drop out of school?”

“I haven’t decided yet. Probably? But I haven’t wanted to do anything official until I get their input.”

I sounded so calm and collected, but even as I spoke the words, fear about how Mom and Daddy would react welled up inside.  Giving my testimony to all of CSF sounded easy compared to that.  But I shoved the feelings back down. I could be brave. I had to, for the baby.  Besides, I already had the ticket bought and paid for.  No turning back now.