Monday, February 13, 2006

Sam and Danny Jackson were now living together over a garage behind Mrs. Seaver’s house on Chester Place. I think they were supposed to look out for her in some way, but mostly it was just a great deal for them. It was near the USC campus. Mrs. Seaver was a wealthy lady so this garage apartment was large. Later on, she would donate so much money to Pepperdine that they named the undergraduate college Seaver College after her. George Hill, my Wednesday night supper buddy from childhood, spent years of his life courting her favor for Pepperdine.

Danny and Sam had a bedroom, a bathroom and a study, and all three rooms were the same size. In the study, they made bookshelves out of planks set on big tree stumps, and they had a very nice stereo and a great record collection. Of course, being Matt’s best friend, Danny Jackson’s collection was one I could appreciate.

Their apartment was never locked. Since I had been friends with them for so long, Danny Blair and I were allowed to “visit” which meant both when they were there and even when they might not be. One song that captures the feeling of that place for me was by Gordon Lightfoot. I had loved him since before high school, and his yearning expressed my own.

“The lamp is burning low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still in the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you…

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with you…
To be once again with you.”

To complete the perfection, there were sleigh bells gently shaking at the end of the song. Gordon Lightfoot knew exactly how to draw out all the longing in a woman’s heart:

“I’m not saying that I’ll love you
I’m not saying that I’ll care if you love me
I’m not saying that I’ll care,
I’m not saying I’ll be there when you need me

I can’t give my heart to you
Or promise that I’ll sing your name up to the sky
I’m not saying that I’ll do the things you want me to
I’m not saying I’ll be true…but I’ll try”

One night, Sara was home from Lipscomb for a visit, and she and Sam and Danny and I ended up coming to their apartment. They took the bedroom, we took the study…not to imply that anything untoward was going on. The music of that evening was by Fever Tree, a group that I never heard again until the internet made file sharing possible a few years ago. Amazing that I can sit here as I write and listen to that very song. There’s the familiar sound of rain in the streets, with cars swishing by…the first time I had ever heard natural sound effects used on an album. Oh, those strings, and that gentle piano - and the final crash of thunder.

When I recently heard songs from that album, decades later, it was sort of embarrassing to realize that many disaffected youth feel the same way we felt, the way the writers on the album felt, isolated and rebellious and certainly misunderstood. At the time, I truly did not consider that our little group of friends was unoriginal in these feelings, which Fever Tree expressed so well. Ah, the self-centeredness of youth!

“Let them laugh, let them cry
Time will pass, grass will die
They can’t hear, they can’t see
Come with me

We can’t stay, they can’t go
Who we are they don’t know
Take my hand, set me free
Come with me

Soon dark clouds will all be behind us
Though they search they never will find us, so . . .
Let them laugh, let them cry
Never know, wonder why
They can’t hear, they can’t see
Come with me”

This apartment for me became Makeout Central. It was a holy atmosphere as well, because we also showed up there some Sunday mornings to have “house church” together. Danny Jackson would put on his Geistliche Chormusik albums by Heinrich Schütz, and we would reverently listen to the little German choirboys echoing in the cathedral. We would light candles, read scripture, sing, take communion. So if Danny Blair and I showed up on a Friday or Saturday night, and no one was home, it was more candles and Cat Stevens on the stereo, and lots of lying down and creative, sustained kissing. I’m sure we hold the title for Long-Duration Non-Orgasmic Kissing.

How on earth could two healthy young people kiss for hours at a time and not move past that activity? Well, we were both virgins. I had not been awakened, and though I can’t speak for him, I am pretty sure he did not struggle with any overwhelming desire to pursue greater intimacy. Once we lost track of time and I came home a lot later than usual…like maybe 3:00 am. Momma was awake and sitting up in bed. She threw her Bible across the room and said, “Why should I even read this when you are such a disappointment to me?”

I said, “What are you talking about?” and she said, “What have you been doing?” and I said, “Just kissing, Mom! What did you think?” and she said, “I don’t believe you should even be doing that!” I laughed in her face. I could not comprehend that in 1972 she was telling me that I should not kiss a boy until I was engaged to be married. Now I understand what she was talking about, but at the time it seemed ludicrous. Like I said, I had not been awakened to the natural progression that would normally follow. My mom probably couldn’t conceive of such sleepy innocence, so how could she believe I was telling the truth?

That night may have been the same night she and I had a fight just before Danny picked me up. I can still feel the exhilaration of escaping from her house, getting into his Ford Falcon, rain falling on the windshield, feeling rescued, and thanking him for taking me away from there. It had always been my family’s philosophy that I was the problem, that I was a bad child, and that I was the source of the conflict between my mother and me. But by the age of eighteen, I was definitely suspecting that she had some part in it, some responsibility for it, and that if I could escape her I could escape much of my pain. How I wish that had been true!

One night we pulled into the driveway at the end of one of those evenings, and sat for a moment in the silence, in the dark. Danny softly said, “I love you.” It was a moment that nearly took my breath away with its significance. After a moment I said, “I love you too,” and we hugged and held each other. It felt momentous, like he had crossed some kind of barrier.

Did I write a poem about Chester Place? Why, of course I did! Indulge me, gentle reader.

Plaid flannel shirt, guitar in the corner
snow on the windowpane
fire dying and wine nearly gone

whispers of leavings
roads stretching out
darkness enfolding

the smell of Christmas pine
Wyeth and Lightfoot
Canadian music, Washington apples

soft rug or overstuffed chair

home-rolled cigarette
peppermint stick
hot tea, blueberry cheesecake
the Best Brownies in da Woild

two nightshirts
a quilt and a four-poster
New York and Lazarus, the
Troubadour, and backstage]

An old Romantic house called Home
(strange interludes on 85th and Pacific Coast Highway)
and a pale green garret
furnished with love
My early life was a struggle between darkness and light. I was never safe or secure, which opened me up to all kinds of fears and struggles and heartache and self-consciousness. Because my family of origin and my family of choice (the Youngs) felt like opposites to me, I thought of one as bad and the other good. I thought of my family as painful and the Youngs as loving. I didn’t understand that both families were extremes, and that extremes are not healthy.

I loved God, yes, but for years I had also habitually fed my soul a steady diet of sad songs about the promise, the exaltation, and the failure of human love. So, in the same way, I entered into an extreme opposite of the spirituality in which I had been raised. I moved from the totally objective and rational (Church of Christ) to the totally subjective and emotional (the Charismatic movement). Who knew of the dangers that lay ahead at the time? Certainly I had no idea.

It was the fall of 1971, I was a sophomore in college, and Danny and I were back together. He invited me to go with him on a weekend retreat with a bunch of other Pepperdine students. I knew it was to be a spiritual retreat, and my mom must have known or sensed what the weekend was about even more than I did, because she refused me permission to go. Since she and I were living together again on 79th Street (after the freedom of my freshman year in the dorm), I could not easily defy her, so I missed the weekend.

I was so jealous when, the following Monday morning in Mr. Hatch’s choir rehearsal, the students who had been on the retreat were absolutely glowing. They were so full of life, and joy, and fun, and laughter and ease. I envied them all that, and I felt practically dead compared to them. What on earth had happened over the weekend? Danny told me it was the “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” I felt God tap me on the shoulder.

Oh no. Now I had a responsibility to respond to God’s invitation. At the age of fourteen, I had told Him, “When it’s my turn…” and now He was telling me, “The time is now.” I had to take an adult step, really for the first time in my life, and trust Him in an uncharted area. I was risking everything I had grown up depending upon, my entire church culture, which offered me a network of identity and connections that could have supported me for the rest of my life. Now I was choosing to forfeit all that for a conviction I held without proof, that all that “Holy Spirit” stuff you read about in the Bible was still really true.

After choir practice, I told Danny I was going home to pray. I sat on the bed in my room, alone, and felt as if ten thousand demons were flying at me. My mind was buzzing with unnamed fears and insecurities. After awhile, I knew I could not do this thing by myself. So I prayed, and asked God to show me where I could find the ringleader of the weekend retreat, a guy named Tom. I got a picture of him in a room in a new building in the center of campus, and when I walked over there, I found him exactly where I had envisioned him. “We need to pray,” I said to Tom, and he took me into a classroom and sat across the table from me.

“What’s going on?” he asked, and I told him that I wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He prayed for me, and told me to speak, but “not in English.” Well, that was a tall order for a girl as rigid, intellectually oriented and “bound up” as I was. But I tried it. I started out saying, “All I want…” and it turned into “Allawanna…” and in another minute I was speaking, and it was not in English.

There was really no emotion attached to the experience. And that was a good thing, because I had been raised to fear overwhelming emotions. I would not have trusted them as being okay. I would not have been confident that they were coming from God. So I got up and went home and said to God, “Okay, now, I’ve asked You, and this has happened. Your Word says, ‘If a fleshly father gives his son good gifts, how much more will your Heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit when you ask Him?” (Luke 11:10-13) and I believe it.

“So I am going to take a stand on that and tell myself, and anybody else who wants to know, that I have now been baptized in the Holy Spirit, whether I ‘felt anything’ or not.” God knew that this rational, objective foundation was important for later on, because I would be severely attacked on my commitment in later years and an emotional experience alone would not have stood up to the battering.

Awhile after that day, I picked up another paperback book, this one describing in detail the after-effects (“afterglow” was the term used at the time, I think) of Holy Spirit baptism. I thanked God that I hadn’t read this before, because I would have doubted. If I had a checklist of what could be expected, I would have been tempted to think I was psychologically manipulating myself to fall in line with it. But I didn’t get a checklist until after it had all come true for me, and I could bear witness to the truth of the list from prior personal experience.

The main thing I remember from that list was “a new hunger for the Word of God, and a new experience of the reality of Jesus.” So true! The Bible had never felt so personal and alive to me before. I had already had one precious experience of God speaking directly to me from the Bible, the weekend before Daddy died, when He used the third chapter of Lamentations to comfort me in preparation for what was about to happen. But now it felt like God was speaking to me through the Bible a lot. For awhile, I “practiced” praying in tongues while in the bathtub, and though it felt strange to put my mind on hold, I believed that my spirit was “speaking to God” like the Bible said. (I Corinthians 14:2 explains, “For he that speaks in an unknown tongue speaks not to men, but to God: for no man understands him, since in the spirit he speaks mysteries.”)

Now that Danny Blair and I were both speakers in tongues, we started going with Larry and Carol (his brother and sister-in-law) to visit some rather “out there” churches. We had already visited Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa the year before, when they were still meeting in the small building that later became their bookstore. We visited there again when they had knocked out the side walls, and again when they had “moved to the tent” but it was half full, and again when the tent was so full that they opened the back of it and set up chairs behind it. At that point the congregation had swelled to several thousand at each meeting.

What a phenomenon. Thousands of Jesus freaks, hippies with long hair, ex-drug users (and some continuing to use, because they hadn’t been “convicted” yet), people living in communes together, all totally blissed out on Jesus. New music was being written all the time. Bands were forming whose sound reminded you of the popular music of the day, but the lyrics were about Jesus. Maranatha! Music, the record label, came out of that church. Love Song, Children of the Day, Karen Lafferty, The Way, Daniel Amos and the Praise Album series all came out of that church.

Hands were being raised in worship, people were being healed. One guy had a game leg full of shrapnel and was healed while he was sitting on the floor right next to us. You could see that his pants leg had filled out, and he was jumping and running around, shouting, “It’s healed! It’s healed!” Danny told me later, “Hey, that guy was for real. When he first sat down, I had to help adjust his leg for him, because he couldn’t even move it by himself.”

I didn’t doubt it. I knew God was keeping His ancient promises in our day, just like the Bible said He would. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit.” (Joel 2:28)

What was so different about Calvary Chapel that thousands of kids would flock to it, that hundreds of kids at a time would go to the beach to get baptized in the ocean? One difference was the pastor, Chuck Smith. I had never seen (and probably still never have seen) a smile like the one that lived on his face. He was so in love with Jesus, and so thrilled at God’s goodness. But it was a quiet happiness. He wasn’t full of hype or excitement or nervous energy. No, he was settled and calm and sure of God and himself, and had nothing to prove. He just shared from his heart, and taught the Bible simply and systematically, verse by verse, book by book. It was a perfect kindergarten church for anyone who was new to the faith.

But mostly it was a movement that no one could fully explain. For some kids, it was the return to their spiritual roots. They had tried sex, drugs and rock n’ roll and found them disappointing at best. It was a progressive, radical format for a conservative impulse. Some young people wanted to settle down and live positive lives, after Altamont and the SDS and Patty Hearst and the sexual revolution had turned the dreams of the Summer of Love into something dark and strange.

She had to find out sometime. God was so good in how He dealt with the issue of how my mother would come to hear about this change in my life. I was wondering how on earth I would manage to tell her without starting World War III? A rational theological discussion between my mom and me was simply unimaginable.

In the little white house on 79th Street where we now lived, we had a spare bedroom which we rented to Marcia Smiley, Naomi’s roommate from the previous year. What a huge blessing Marcia turned out to be. She had been raised in the Assemblies of God churches, so the supernatural was sort of second nature to her. She was well past being mystified by all the “woo-woo” stuff (as we affectionately referred to it later on in Nashville). She visited Calvary Chapel with us one night and remained still in her seat long after the service was over. I asked her what was going on with her (I could feel it) and she said, “It’s so long since I’ve felt His presence like this, I just don’t want to move.” So I knew I could talk to her about what was happening with me.
She was very encouraging and supportive, understanding that this would indeed present a crisis in my relationship with my mom. The next thing I knew, Momma invited a friend over for dinner. Ruth Ransohoff had met my parents back in the Gatewood days in post-War Germany, and she was now teaching at Pepperdine. She was an altogether logical, methodical and academic thinker, and as we sat at the supper table, she asked me a question.

“Gwen, what is your feeling about all the spiritual things that are happening among the students? Do you speak in tongues?”

What a bombshell! What an opportunity! How could God have orchestrated it more perfectly? Marcia had just arrived back home from somewhere, and I glimpsed her standing in the hallway overhearing this conversation. Later she told me that she was praying fervently for me, and for herself, fearing she would be blamed for this shocking situation.

“Yes, I do.”

“Tell me about it. I’ve always thought it must be a great relief, if one finds oneself in a traumatic situation, to be able to express one’s emotions in such a way.”

“It’s not like that at all for me. There hasn’t been any wave of emotion, or overwhelming sensation of any kind. I simply asked God to give me the gift of tongues, and He quietly, simply did.”

And the conversation went on along those lines for some time. Meanwhile, there was Momma sitting at the same supper table, not blowing up, not having a heart attack, not saying a word or making a peep. She was being carried along by Ruth’s calm, deliberate manner, appearing to listen to the dialogue as impartially as if she was overhearing two strangers conversing. Unbelievable.

She and I did have a brief conversation about this later, but there was really nothing left to say, after Ruth had covered all that ground. Years later when Mom saw me in the grip of a church she felt was a cult, she did weep and say, “I feel like I’ve lost my daughter.” But that came much later. Here’s what I wrote later that evening:

Lord, you work so perfectly and
so well
The timing and the people
the mood and the words you gave me
fit easily into a pattern of
boldness, not producing fear but
security, and peace.
“The fullness of time” –
and all you’ve brought me through.
No stagnancy now
but a challenge to greater
more frequent times of holy closeness
to You.
I thank and praise Your love
poured out on such an unworthy child.
Use me Lord
and again.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o
At some point in the fall of our sophomore year, while Sara was in Nashville attending Lipscomb College, Sam invited Janie Epp, and I invited Danny, and the four of us went on a road trip together to Terrell, Texas. Pepperdine was sending a bus of students because there was some kind of “gospel meeting” or missionary conclave or something, and we took it as a great chance to have a relatively cheap adventure.

I had long hair, and it had always tangled terribly, so I lived to regret sticking my head out the bus window and letting the hot Texas wind batter my face. But I really needed to. When we arrived at the meeting place, we discovered we were sleeping on floors and attending meetings in a big canvas tent in the Texas heat. But to make matters much worse, the speakers were the old fashioned screaming, yelling, strident preachers that I just can’t listen to. It sounds like fighting and feels like “being in trouble” and getting yelled at. All I can do is block it out and go numb. So I asked Danny Blair and Janie and Sam to go on a walk with me and escape the yelling. Of course I wrote about it.

‘The finest walk of our lives’
Rail-flattened pennies
and ancient tombstones
An endless meadow and
then another one beyond the trees

Not touching hands but
touching souls
Singin’ and thinkin’ and
sharing the glory of the sunset
Weeds and crickets scratching our legs
the wind and the mood
soothing our spirits

‘Thank you God
for this most amazing day.’ (e.e. cummings)

At the bottom of the page where I wrote this memory, I noted “written sitting by Matt in Nashville.” So that must have been the Christmas of 1971 that Mom and I and the Youngs were all in Nashville together. It only happened that once, and I was allowed to spend the night at Dad Young’s house with the whole gang on one of those nights. It was so delightful…we all slept on the living room floor, Steven and Emily and Matt and Sara and Marilyn and I.

I loved seeing Steven Lemley be as funny and loose and free as he was that night. He was cracking us up, making comments in the dark over our crowded sleeping bags. The Youngs were in Nashville for Christmas because Dad Young was sick in the hospital, and I went with the girls to visit him. He was his typical, irascible self. I walked into the hospital room and he said, “Come over here, let me look at you. Why, you don’t look as bad as you used to!” I couldn’t believe it. It was hard to have compassion for a ninety-year-old man who would lie in his hospital bed and say such a thing - to an insecure teenage girl yet!

When we got back to L.A., Momma had scheduled a tonsillectomy for me with Dr. Allen. Almost every winter for the previous many years, I had a bout of tonsillitis, so it was past time to do something about it. Mom checked me into Daniel Freeman Hospital, and I lay in the hospital bed prior to surgery, thinking, “Okay, now, God is supposed to go with me through this scary thing, but I can’t feel anything. What does it really mean that He’s going to be with me? What if I die?” I was disoriented, and it sort of freaked me out that my surroundings were unsettling me so badly. When I woke up from the anesthesia, my throat hurt worse than anything I had experienced thus far in life. Sara and Marilyn came to see me and I couldn’t talk to them, I just reached out my hand and held theirs and cried.

When the Jello and ice cream came on the hospital tray, there was a prayer card with them, a blessing for mealtimes. It was God’s personal word to me, and it brought tears to my eyes. It was Psalm 103, where it says, “O bless the Lord, my soul, and forget none of His benefits…” That had become so precious to me as a song in Godspell, a musical that Danny Blair and Naomi and I had seen at the Music Center that fall. As it turned out, I would that same year have the privilege of seeing Godspell performed in London, and in Paris, in French. I later learned that Stephen Schwartz, the composer of the musical, was Jewish, and that made this next song all the more poignant. How it tore at my soul to hear that young, tender male voice singing,

“On the willows there we hung up our lyres,
for our captors there required of us songs,
and our tormentors mirth, saying
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!
Sing of one of the songs of Zion!’
But how can we sing, sing the Lord’s song,
in a foreign land?”

Those words reached deep into my soul. I knew what the writer was talking about, because that’s how I had felt all my life –desperately unhappy, living in a foreign land, and my tormentors were requiring of me — mirth.

When I got home from the hospital, I got a very special present. We didn’t have that wonderful tradition in our family of getting a treat when you’re sick, so this was the first time it had happened to me. Danny Jackson and Naomi went shopping and bought me a set of 64 Crayola crayons and a Maurice Sendak coloring book. It was one of the most delightful presents I’ve ever received.

That spring of 1972 was relatively uneventful. Danny Blair and I continued spending time together. He would sometimes come home with me for lunch and I would make him his favorite sandwich, smashed bananas and peanut butter. He would play the piano and we would sing Elton John songs. It was the Tumbleweed Connection album, with “Love Song”, “Come Down in Time” and “Amoreena”. We also loved the Neil Young album Harvest. (I would never have dreamed that I would be able to use some of the same musicians on my own album that Neil did on his first Nashville recording.)

For the Valentine’s banquet at Naomi’s home church, Danny Blair and I joined Naomi’s brother Tom and entertained. We sang a bunch of love songs, including “Danny’s Song” and “Love Song” by Kenny Loggins. I didn’t even own a guitar yet, but I had the nerve to play that night in front of people. What was I thinking? I was definitely getting bolder about performing.

In the doldrums of this second year of relationship with him, I wrote something about what I was feeling. I’m pretty sure I did not share it with Danny.

Suddenly I’ve been given a gift —
an hour with nothing in the world to do
but you

Lately I’ve been wondering
what it is that’s made me feel so distant
for so long

The way we touch
the way we seem to fit when we’re together
you’d think there was a bond, a closeness
most unique in this world of

And surely there is, but somehow
I must have imagined a deeper
maybe more constant
knowing, or awareness
that I haven’t found in us.

Of course I was forewarned.
I watched for such a long time before you came
and they told me not to expect too much

Could it be me?
My sight is still dim
though it grows clearer every day
The fog of romantic notions and
vague imaginings is lifting

A little more time
a year, or two
and maybe we will see.
We’ll take it slow.

All my life Mom had a habit, after our fights, of coming into my bedroom after I was already in bed. She would stand there and say she was sorry, then restate her position in the conflict. There I was in bed, feeling defenseless and too tired to rehash the argument. It felt like an emotional assault. I was having such a hard time living back at home with Momma after the year away in the dorm, and the tension spilled over onto my relationship with Danny. Once he told me, “Sometimes you treat me just like you treat your mother,” and I was appalled. The last thing in the universe I wanted to be was like my mom, and now something inside me that I didn’t understand was hurting Danny. It was horrible, it was frightening, and I didn’t know what to do about it.

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