As of June 2012, Jennifer Ould and I are celebrating our tenth anniversary as friends. We wanted to do something very special. We started talking back in August of last year about the possibility of doing a road trip in June 2012 to celebrate our friendship.
Here are some of the highlights:
We were paired friends on this trip. We could have been adult siblings enjoying the trip. We weren't a romantic couple. We conceived this trip as friends. We planned it as friends. We decided to venture forth on the road as friends who were deep into platonic intimacy. That's an oxymoron for most people in our sexualized culture. For them, we challenged their limited imagination. On more than one occasion we had an opportunity to correct someone who thought we were a "couple."
I think there is much Gospel precedent to discourage us from judging by appearance. We didn't create this trip to make a statement to the world about cross-gender friendship. We ended up doing this trip because of our friendship and what it meant to us.
This was a "communal" trip. We did not take this trip as a thumb our noses up to those closest to us. Quite the contrary, those closest to us were "in" on this trip from the very beginning giving their full support. Those who are closest to us and know us were fully supportive of us taking this trip. It's what it means to live in community. For us, it is deep goodness and beauty in community to participate in something that is counterculture.
This was a missional trip. Yes, the phrase is overused. But for some evangelicals claiming this term, their focus is so narrow, suited for their own ecclesial agendas. Male-female reconciliation is a low item on their totem pole of missional priorities. They think missional ends as flourishing marriages. But if missional means anything in this world between men and women it means living with one another and not using each other for utilitarian purposes--for sex or ecclesial purposes. The shared experience of friendship as an end in and of itself between a man and woman is profoundly missional.
The Incline was not on my radar screen when we started on this trip. That quickly changed when Jennifer said we had to go on "the steepest railride in the world." The Incline is a railcar that rides from the bottom to the top of Lookout Mountain. Even as we got on the car at the bottom I was unmoved by this ride. It was when we were going ten miles an hour climbing the last, let's say 100 feet, that this ride suddenly gripped me. Wow.
Then when we came back down. Jennifer was kind and gentle. She insisted that I could have any seat I wanted to (we were one of the first ones to enter on the car). She said she liked the front row seat but we didn't have to sit there. It was my call. I chose the front seat.
This was exhilarating! Fun! And, no question, I rested in Jennifer's encouragement.
We are going down the steepest incline for a railride at this moment when I snap the picture. Jennifer is telling me if she lived on Lookout Mountain she would take this daily for her commute.
Yup. I went whitewater rafting with Jennifer. To say I had to press through anxiety the morning before we did it would be an understatement. The anxiety intensified 30 minutes before when the guide told us the best position for seating was sitting on the outside edge of the raft! Say what?!!?? Outside edge??? Lord have mercy.
The river was a class II rapids selected by Jennifer because she felt it would be safe for me to enjoy. Having been friends for ten years Jennifer knows me. She knows me more than a lot of people do. We weren't too far into the river when there was some whitewater. The guide said he's like to spin us into the whitewater. So we spun. Jennifer got splashed. But once we were through that I gave soaked Jennifer a high five.
That was a blast!
We had a great time the rest of the river. But at the end, there is a 15 foot drop which is classified as a class III rapids stretch. It's short. But it is known as "the falls."
It was fun going into the drop. But it was intense. I had the rocks on my side. They were close. After we got through it, another raft full of people came down the drop. We watched them as two people fell out of the raft into the river when they went into "the falls."
I was thrilled that we had such a great time rafting.
We visited the historic Chickamauga Battlefield on Saturday, June 16. This is a wide, huge place that has gadzillions of monuments of all kinds from small to large. I had not comprehended what Jennifer was attempting to tell me. Had she told something like, "Dan there are 3,300 markers in this area and we are only going to see 35 of them today" that, I think would have helped me.
I had photographed and read the first 7 I saw. Then she started to make it known to me that what I was doing was the impossible. I was blown away by the many markers and the history I was experiencing.
We made a special trip up a tower. Jennifer said the tower had historical meaning to her because her she visited it as a child and used to love to climb the steps.
Wild Goose Festival
This highlight deserves a place all on its own apart from the rest. I will devote a an entire blog post to Wild Goose. It was something profound. Jennifer and I were contributors and we were so encouraged by the large turnout for our talk: over 100 came to hear us.
We camped here five nights. We had separate tents. Meeting Mike Morrell, Jimmy Chalmers, Steve Knight was special. Other highlights included hearing Cathleen Falsani, Brian McLaren, Ian Cron, Over the Rhine, Frank Schaeffer, and David Crowder. Meeting other broken and flawed people who were hungering to love others in their differences was so good and beautiful.
Oh, and watching Jennifer get dunked in the dunk tank was definitely a highlight!
Connecting with Special People
We stayed with Doug Webster, Jennifer's parents (Don and Ellen), and Anne and Tim Gross for some of the nights on our trip. It was such a blessing to stay with them. Thank you, Doug, Ellen, Don, Anne, and Tim for your generous hospitality!
I so enjoyed the conversations. I met Doug, Tim, and Anne face-to-face for the first time. You were all precious.
Visiting Jennifer's Roots
When we began to plan this trip I was so looking forward to visiting Jennifer's roots. I told her I was hoping to see some places that held special meaning in her heart. I got to see the house she grew up in from 8 years old onward. We visited several places. I got to see Jennifer's eyes light up as she shared memories.
Lookout Mountain. Rock City. Riding the Carousel. Missionary Ridge. Tennessee Temple.
A special poignant moment for me was when we visited Jennifer's father's grave who passed away when she was a toddler. I have heard Jennifer talk about her daddy many times in 10 years. It was a powerful, beautiful moment in which my heart has no words to adequately communicate.
This was truly a spontaneous decision to do. It dawned on me sometime Wednesday that we were only a mere 3 hours away from the ocean beaches of North Carolina. So with very little planned for Thursday and with the temps in the 90s, we headed off for Wrightsville Beach.
We went out into the waves and Jennifer taught me how to "ride" the waves as they came in. The waves reached as high as 6 or 7 feet--some were way over my head. But she taught me to go with the flow as it were, and ride them. We were both glad we did this!
Blue Ridge Parkway
This was an incredible drive. First time experience for me.
Shared Experience of the Trip
I don't know how to describe this last highlight. But I want to emphasize the specialness or the extraordinary of the ordinary shared experience we had in all 12 days. We shared and ate food together. We obviously rode in a car for great lengths at a time (3002 total miles). We enjoyed each other's company. Being together for 12 days we had a few quibbles but we deeply enjoyed each other and had a great time together.