Monday, January 2, 2012


Michael Monroe was a quiet man in his original demeanor . . .  yet, he had been quieter and more distracted than usual.  No one, save his wife Beth, knew about the chaos percolating up in his personal life and she only knew part of it.

Everything in his sphere of influence seemed to be in perfect balance, when suddenly they began to unravel like an un-fused rope end in a hurricane.  The tincture that turned the wine into vinegar was a young man, who went by the name of “Rude,” a preferred shortened form of Ruddy or was it Rodney?

Rude was a transfer from Detroit. He was rough around the edges, into the grunge scene, so it seems. The first time that Mike had seen him was at Ashley's, his sixteen year old daughter’s, volleyball game.  He saw the boy at the corner of the gym with his long, jet-black dyed hair, a chrome chain going from his billfold to his belt and combat boots. He didn’t like him. He had no clue at the time that Rude was there—precisely—to watch Ashley play.

Ashley had had a boyfriend who had Mike and Beth’s perfect approval.  He was a member of their church. He was clean-cut. He played on the basketball team and he worked at the Hardware store. They knew that Ashley wasn’t talking much of Jonathan as of late but they didn’t realize that they had broken up. But Mike and Beth also had no idea that she was now becoming total obsessed with Rude.

It wasn’t until Beth herd from Jonathan’s mother in Sunday school that Ashley was dating this new, bad kid named Jude.  Jonathan’s mother whispered to Beth at church a couple of Sunday’s later, “How do you feel about Ashley’s smoking?” 

“Smoking?” asked Beth with a puzzled look. Jonathan’s mom just nodded. Of course, she was saying those things to make sure it was clear that Ashley was the villain in the breakup with her son. It would be assumed that the Preacher’s kid was always the one in the white hat.

This led to a confrontation that afternoon. Mike and Beth sat in the parsonage living room and demanded to hear it all . . . which they would later regret.

 Ashley was stone-walling at first, but she knew this day of reckoning was eventually coming, so she finally caved in and told them everything. She poured the details on them so fast that Mike and Beth clutched the arms of the overstuffed chairs for dear life, like they were riding them down a class five rapids or a whirly ride at the state fair. 

Ashley stated that she was deeply in love, her words, and Rude is the man she has always dreamt of. She wants to marry him as soon as she graduates, or maybe move in with him. He has helped her see truth in the world for the first time. He writes music. He is a poet. He taught her to smoke pot, which does more for her than church ever did. She only smokes tobacco to train her lungs to inhale pot.

Being disoriented on the whirly ride, Beth finally shouted STOP!  SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!  Michael, say something!

None of Mike’s pastoral counseling classes had prepared him for this moment. Maybe he was prepared to help other parents deal with the situation with an emotional detachment, but not in his own family.  He was totally lost for words.  He prayed in his silent places.  He felt so scared. Ashley was sixteen and she had the power to trump anything he could say . . . by simply walking out the door . . . which she would eventually do.

Beth had demanded that Mike do something, at least about the pop-smoking. Ashley didn’t have a car to take away. Mike did ground her, but those were empty words to Ashley.  Mike, taking the best position that he could as a parent of a sixteen-year-old, but still a weak position, told her that she could never bring pot or even tobacco into their house or, or  . . .  “Or what?” Ashley demanded.

Mike was trembling on the inside. Beth was staring at Mike from the other side of Ashley, her eyes demanding that he man up. He spoke as if programed words were coming out . . .  “Or you can’t live here.”

“That’s fine. I didn’t want to live here anymore anyway. I’m sick and tired of playing Christian . . . so sick I want to puke all over your little church.”

Beth was sobbing uncontrollably.  Ashley packed up her Britney Spears overnight bag (which her non-Christian grand pa had given her when she turned ten).  It was a strange paradox a girl doing a grown up thing like leaving home but with a little girl’s suitcase. Apparently she had phoned Rude because the moment she walked the door he pulled up in is rattly and rusty Subaru.  They pulled out and up the street and they could hear his broken muffler echoing through the neighborhood.

Up until the threshold of their door, Beth had been screaming, “Where are you going?  You have to tell us where’re you going?  We will call the police if you don’t tell us.”

Ashley replied, “Don’t worry about it. I will be safe. But I can’t live here in pretend anymore. I just can’t stand this fucking Charade.”

Beth looked with horror, “Ashley don’t ever use those words in this house! I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

Ashley smiled, “You just don’t get it.  I won’t be using any words in this house anymore!  That’s why the hell I’m leaving!” She then paused and turned around, “And another thing dear mom, you have never known me!”

Mike and Beth both stopped at the threshold of their door. They didn’t want to take the family fight out into the yard where people could see them.  Mike had been evangelizing Clifford across the street for years. It would ruin their wittiness.  The Jorgensen’s lived just down the street. Stephen was an elder at their church.

In the silent, cultured stone split-level was empty and quiet . . . quiet except for the sounds of Beth’s sobbing.  Mike tried to hold her, but she seemed angry at him and pushed him away.  Finally she gave vent to the emotions building up in side of her, “Why didn’t you do something?  Why didn’t you stop her? Mike . . . what are we going to do?”

Mike was silent and numb on the outside. Inside he felt terrified.  His whole life had just been turned upside down.  He felt like he had just watched a horror movie, but when the lights came on, then he exited into the street from the theater, the monsters were still there.  You couldn’t put the genie back into the bottle. Their family would never, ever be the family they were just a week earlier.

They did call the police. The police treated it as a simple runaway, but the officer knew Mike and Beth personally. Beth demanded that he keep quiet about their problem.  He assured them he would. He went beyond what he was required to do.  He looked for the kids until he found the rusty car sitting in front of one of Ashley’s friend’s house.  He went in and talked with them. Her friend’s mother was offering Ashley a place to stay until this blew over.

As bad as things had become, it wasn’t the worse of things for Mike. That came a week later.  During their intensive and more personal than typical conversations, Beth said something that shook Mike’s world more that Ashley’s leaving had.

They were sitting in bed talking and Beth said, “Ashley needs to grow up and realize, like I did, that she needs to pick the good man to be with, not the one you are in love with.”  As soon as she said those words, she realized in her lapse of vigilance she spoke much more honestly than she intended.

“What does that mean?” Mike asked. “Are you saying you married me, not out of love, but out of discipline?”

“Of course not! I do love you. I was just saying that I was mature enough to know that you were a good man and that you would make a good husband and father and that’s why I married you.”

Mike sat in a cold, dark silence as he pondered where to take the conversation. He was totally infatuated with Beth when they married. He assumed that she was about him.

Beth hit the remote hoping to distract the conversation. She had always avoided speaking her heart to anyone, especially Mike. But now they were in her inner world and she wanted them to exit, so she could close that door, which she had inadvertently opened.

Finally Mike spoke again, “Beth, you weren’t in love with me were you?  I always had that sense, but for now the pieces seem to fit.”

“Mike, I love you and that is what counts.  Who even knows what being in love really is. It is a word children use.”

“Beth, I have no doubts I was deeply in love with you.”

But Mike started putting pieces together.  When he met Beth, she was a new convert coming to their campus ministry. She was dating a tall, handsome guy, Lew, who played tennis for the state college and was a fraternity president.  Mike remembered how hard it was for Beth to break up with him, but she knew that she had to leave that partying lifestyle. 

Mike barely knew her at the time.  But looking back, he knew that Beth had been in love with Lew. Now, he realized that she had never been in love with him in the same way. He was the safe, quiet man. Right now, that is not what he wanted to be. Strangely, he would rather have been Beth's Rude.

In a span of a week, he realized that he was a failure as a father, a pastor and the knight he always wanted to be, winning the love and admiration for the woman he loved. He was terrified that his sweet, little princess daughter was being sexually active and doing so with a man . . . a boy . . . who didn't love her the way that he did.  His heart was breaking.

The avalanche of insecurities where overwhelming for Michael Monroe. On the surface, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of his church, he had to pretend that all was well. However, he felt like a Russian Matryoshka doll, where layer by layer he was being consumed from the inside out by wood-eating piranha. Layer by layer his inner man was dying, and he felt as just a shell . . . a smiling and shellacked  pastor Mike. He could let no one know . . . for the sake of the Gospel, he had to man up.

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