What do all these factors have in common: engagement, marriage, unemployment for one spouse, pregnancy, eviction, multiple living quarters including an unfinished attic, the kickoff of a writing career, the arrival of a first child, unemployment for the other spouse, all followed by a cross-country move with their four-month old daughter leaving behind kith and kin in search of fame and fortune? You guess it…Kay and Chip. Oh yeah, and cram all these events into just over a year’s time.
I can think back on some of the decisions and choices I’ve made in life and wonder, “What was I thinking,” but marrying Kay was not one of them. The hardest job I’ve ever had was to convince her to be my wife. It wasn’t easy, but we signed, sealed, and transacted the ceremony on May 12, 1979, and headed off to Green Turtle Cay for our honeymoon. Green Turtle is a three-mile long, one half mile wide island accessible only by boat. There were a few bungalows scattered about on both ends of the island, and on the central part there is the yacht club and a small gated community of luxury homes owned by the gentry from other countries. We were the only ones to have rented a bungalow for that week, so the whole southern end of the island was ours. To see other humans required a walk into the village. We made the trek a couple of times.
Once we returned from Green Turtle, life rapidly descended into chaos: lost jobs, lost housing; and within two months of our “I do’s,” lost autonomy of our couple-hood. My mother fondly called our honeymoon spot, “Fertile Green Turtle.” Nine months and four days after the wedding (Yes, Mother was counting the days), we were blessed with our first daughter, Kristin Alisabeth. Now when faced with the heavy realities of life, I should step up and take responsibility, get that “real job,” I was told by one relative, and “The Lord helps those who help themselves,” I was informed by another relative. Well-meaning advice, I’m sure, but I did not have “ears to hear.” In the midst of our topsy-turvy world, I had the brilliant idea that it was the perfect time not to look for that “real” job, but to write a play, a biblical play on the apostle Paul that would turn the world upside down just as the original Paul had done in his day (He had a “real” job until he took that road to Damascus). What had Kay gotten herself into, you ask, and was it too late to get out? The simple answer is no, she did not know what she had gotten herself into, and yes, it was too late to get out.
My parents gave me my first Bible on my eleventh birthday in 1961 with the inscription written in my mother’s hand: “To our son with the hope that this book will serve as your guide all the days of your life. Our love and prayers will always be with you. Mother and Daddy.” It was the standard KJV translation. “If this translation was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it is good enough for us,” was the occasional argument heard among the brethren back then. It sits on my desk: dog-eared, held together with a rubber band and petrified masking tape, with the pages inside marked and worn.
Now do not be deceived. As sweet as this sentiment might be, I tested the inscribed words of my parents. Their “love” was tried and their “prayers” were many when I took a prodigal turn and remained “in the wilderness” for what, I’m sure, seemed like ages to them. At one point Mother said that she stopped praying for me to make good choices and have good friends. Instead, she began praying for the Lord to just keep me alive. I am very grateful to the faithfulness of my parents, and like the prodigal son, when I “came to my senses,” a discovery of an active, loving relationship with God and an intense thirst for Scripture came with it. A devotion to tell or retell stories from the Bible would soon follow.
By the end of our first year of marriage I had written several drafts of “The Voice of the Lion” on the life of Saint Paul and had sent the latest one to a director friend in Washington State who I had worked with for a couple of years in several professional productions before getting married. He loved the play and agreed to help me develop it with the hope that we could mount a production that could tour theatres and churches up and down the west coast. When we announced that we were taking the first grandchild in the family and heading west, the fat hit the fan. Mount St. Helens had just blown her stack and the atmosphere was thick with volcanic dust. Some family members were sure we were dooming our child to a lifetime of lung diseases. Forty years later, the child is fine, thank you very much. And so are we, by the way.
The first “Star Wars” movie had come out, and the director and I thought this play deserved laser lights and holograms. Surely every potential investor we approached would catch our vision and write those checks. To keep body and soul together, I worked all sorts of jobs from a well-digger’s assistant to production stage manager for an orchestra. After a year of energy and money spent on the “pitch,” we were exhausted and down to a few hundred dollars in the account. We moved to Washington with four hundred dollars and returned to Nashville one year later with that same amount.
Before we returned home, the small country church we attended honored me by devoting a Sunday night service to a public reading of the play. My cast consisted of a farmer, a postman, a teacher, a well-digger (former employer), the pastor, and an ex-witch and warlock from a local coven who had been born again. I’ve always believed in equal opportunity. And I read the role of the great apostle. Our dream of laser lighting was reduced to the on/off switches of the ceiling lights (no dimmers in this house of worship). But the house and the stage lights were separate, so we were able to darken the house and keep the stage lights on to create some level of theatricality. And there were no holograms, though the suggestion was made by the ex-warlock that we could hold flashlights under our chins during a couple of the more dramatic moments. Perhaps being born again had not taken its full effect, and he still had one foot in the coven. Ours was a flesh and blood production, warmly received, and shortly afterwards, we returned home with our second daughter, Lauren Blair, in utero.
The experience of forty years ago has brought me to this point in my writing life with the coming publication in December, 2020, of “A Voice Within the Flame,” the first volume in my biblical fiction series “A Song of Prophets and Kings.” Inspired by Old Testament stories, this series takes a 3,000 year leap back in human history. In tenth century B.C., three great kings ruled the nation of Israel and three great prophets asserted their divine authority to hold them accountable. These ancient stories show the inevitable tension between the human and the divine, replete with murder, rebellion, romance, and betrayal. No matter how much time we are given or how hard we might try, Homo sapiens have changed little; nothing new under the sun, as the ecclesiastical saying goes.
Between that first public performance in the small country church forty years ago to the coming release of “A Voice Within the Flame” this December, there were many adventures for Kay and me. In my next story-blog, I will recount a few more, some disastrous and humorous, some poignant and tender, on our journey to this moment. And not once in my artistic and literary odyssey did I ever encounter a hologram.
So stay tuned. More to come.
Book Cover Design by Roseanna White