Sunday, April 30, 2006
The Innocent Victim
Besides crushing Heather, Richie's affair with Denise is also bound to upset his and Heather's 8-year-old daughter, Ava. Insiders say Ava knows Denises as her mother's friend--not as her father's girlfriend. How will she react? Not well, predicts Jen Abbas, author of Generation Ex: Adult Children of Divorce and the Healing of Our Pain. "If the parent starts dating a family friend, it can create big loyalty issues because all of a sudden Daddy is kissing Auntie the way he uses to kiss Mommy."
Thursday, April 27, 2006
I have a few books in the hopper. One of the ones I suspect will be contracted soon is the relationship book, Getting to I Do After Mom and Dad Said I Don't. The book is a follow-up, in some sense, to Generation Ex, in that it's the same general topic (the long-term effects of parental divorce). But this one will focus on the granddaddy of all effects, our ability to form healthy attachments, especially romantic ones.
At 34, in West Michigan especially, I find myself in an odd predicament. Folks around here tend to marry young, between 22-27. Friends who are my age, for the most part, are married and parents of between one and four children. I do have single friends as well, but the majority are between seven and ten years younger than me. To be honest, it's a challenge at times. I love my friends, but I feel a wall of dissimilarity between us at times, like I missed life's boat somewhere along the line and I'm the 30-year-old high school senior. We're created for community and I think we miss out on something vital when we don't have someone on the same point on the path with us.
I recently realized something about myself. I think I can handle most anything if I can visualize a way I can write about it later. When I can view my situation as research, I can redeem it. There's a lot of change coming up in my life. A lot of it is out of my control, but the thing I can control is my response to each change.
I've often wondered why God has allowed me to experience two parental divorces. It doesn't seem fair and it's certainly made my life much more difficult. The road to wholeness has had more than its share of bumps and bruises. But I am a writer, and thousands of people have, in reading my book, been encouraged because they found another person on the same point on the path of life. We are comforted because we are not alone.
I have often wondered why God has allowed relationships to be so difficult for me. (I'm not saying I'm a victim. I am becoming increasingly aware of the mistakes I've made and am making!). It's just that this is not what I expected my life to look like, relationally, at this point. But again, the redemption for me comes in the writing. I'm excited to write about this next chapter, and as much as I hate the reality of it,--and acknowledge that acknowledging I'm writing this book to any single guy is pretty much the kiss of death for dating that guy!--I have hope, too.
When I was writing Generation Ex, I had to get to a certain point in the healing process before I could write. In fact, I didn't realize this until I was writing. I didn't want to write as an expert or present myself as someone who totally had her stuff together. At the same time, I needed to feel that I had covered a little bit of territory. My editor (the brilliant Liz) showed amazing discernment to let me write out my thoughts. She knew I needed to write them out to process them, and I had to process them--in all their unfiltered glory--so I could get to the good stuff, the redemptive stuff. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, my book is about 65,000 words. My first draft was 225,000!
In the same way, when it comes to Getting to I Do After Mom and Dad Said I Don't, I think there were a few emotional housekeeping tasks I had to take care of first before I could really say what needs to be said.
1. I had to lose my innocence. I don't mean this in a purity sense. Rather, there is a pervasive idea, especially in Christian circles, that marriage is something that just "happens," when the time is right. I'm not saying we should be obnoxious about dating or obsessive about our desires to be married, but we need to be active, even proactive (especially guys), at times. We don't tell the person who wants a job to sit on their duff and expect God to drop a job in their lap. We tell them to go to college, to get an internship, to network, to send out resumes, to make follow-up calls, go on interviews, send thank you notes. We don't tell the person wanting to dig out of debt to just keep doing what they're doing and wish and pray their way to debt-free living. No, we challenge them to cut back on expenses, make wise buying decisions, look for additional revenue, share expenses (like housing) with others. But when a single says he or she wants to get married, well-meaning folks say things like, "When you stop looking, it'll happen!" What?!? The sad thing is, I bought this lie hook, line and sinker. I barely gave marriage a thought before thirty. If anyone asked me why I was single (and you know they did), I said it was because God hadn't brought the right guy to me, or that I was focusing on my career, or that I was focused on other things. But I didn't take responsibility for the fact that I wasn't expanding my social circle, I wasn't letting people know what kind of guy I'd like to meet. I wasn't dating! Once I hit 30, I had a bit of startling revelation. Relationships don't just happen. That's also the age when friendships start changing to align more by stage of life than age of life. If I can make my career, my writing, my finances, and my faith a priority, I can certainly make relationships a priority, and I should be ashamed to do that. I had to take responsibility for the things I was doing--or not doing--to prevent me from meeting guys I would likely like.
2. God and I had to get real. I've been a Christian for fifteen years, and as time goes on, He reveals additional layers of His character to me. Gary Thomas' brilliant book, Sacred Marriage, rocked my world with its subtitle (and text): What if the purpose of marriage is to make us holy more than happy? What was extraordinarily freeing about this question was that I already knew marriage doesn't make us happy. It can, but when one person or two in a marriage make it the barometer of personal happiness, bad things happen. But, if marriage can be viewed also as a spiritual discipline--a means to draw closer to God and better reflect the character of God--I only needed to look at my own relationship with God to be confident that I was capable of marriage. (Before that, honestly, I avoided marriage to avoid divorce. I thought I was destined to repeat my parents' patterns). I could see that God and I had experienced relational extremes--times of intimacy and times of distance--but wherever we were at the moment, I knew our relationship was still permanent and we'd bounce back. That was a good first step. More recently, I've learned to have greater authenticity with God. Sure, before, I would share my frustrations with Him, but my perfectionistic complex prevented me from really being open. I would vent out my thoughts with some reserve, fearful that if I made God mad, He would maybe go away. Now I understand that God can handle my emotions. King David in the Bible let God have it more than once, and he was called a man after God's own heart. I want to want what God wants. And if David can be real, so can I. I'm not advocating regular shouting matches with God, mind you, I'm just saying that God can handle our anger, frustration, pain, disappointment and everything else. In fact, there's no One better to dump all that emotion on, so we can exchange it for something a bit more palatable (and helpful) for interacting with real people.
3. I had to get my heart broken. This is the one that really hurts. I had this optimistic hope that if I just "focused" on Jesus, that God would drop Mr. Wonderful in my life, and we would have this blissful courtship that would lead to marriage, free from doubts and disagreements. I wouldn't have to date a lot of different guys. The first guy would be the right guy, and we'd live happily ever after. Up til last year, I dated more with my head than my heart, so when things didn't work out, I could rationalize the reason. I liked him, but... Then this fall, I met an amazing guy who actually met and exceeded my list of ten character qualities. My friends liked him too, so the usual cautions and hesitations were gone. He pursued me, hard. I put up my usual walls and he busted them down, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. For once, I let my heart get involved. I could really see what life would be like with him, and for once, that--with all the challenges and adjustments it would require--was more desirable that what I had planned for myself. I liked him and he liked me. I had someone special in my life over what is usually the hardest part of the year--Christmas, New Years, my birthday, Valentines day...plus two weddings. It was wonderful. And then it ended. I don't get it. I don't like it. I don't understand it. But it is what it is. Over. And in my brokenness, I have been softened. Humbled. Ready to do the hard work of owning up the mistakes I've made, both with him and with others. Ready to fine tune the parts of me that tune out the kind of guy I want to marry. Funny, I thought I'd be getting married this fall. Instead I'll be writing about it. Redemption, I hope.
All this brings me back to Erin. She's been an amazing sounding board (if not a reluctant one, at times). She drags me out of my house to play golf, disc golf, Catan, go to the local Improv show, or just get out. She helps me celebrate the progress I can't always see. And because she's younger than me, she inspires me. She's learning these lessons now, at 27, so she won't be the slow learner that I have been. Redemption, I hope.
Happy birthday, Erin!
Monday, April 24, 2006
If the article makes the cut, it will be in next week's issue. Stay tuned!
Saturday, April 22, 2006
Friday, April 21, 2006
Hey Jen! A new song you can add to this list is, "Don't Give Up" by Sanctus Real. It is off their new "The Face of Love" album (GREAT album, by the way). It was written as a letter to one of their friends who had decided to get a divorce. Maybe this doesn't necessarily fit the "Children of Divorce" soundtrack, but it's a great song against divorce in general and will hopefully be used by God to grab the attention of those on the verge of giving up on love.
I do think it fits, so it's going on the list! I looked up the lyrics so you can see for yourself.
Don't Give Up
I heard you say you would love for a lifetime
Now you complain a lifetime just doesn’t feel right for you
Another casualty of casual love
Another soul out of place, a heart that gave up
Why do we break the promises we make?
Are we living for ourselves?
Don’t give up on love and throw it all away.
Don’t give up on love and let it fall away.
When did it become so easy to run from your pain?
Don’t give up on love and throw it all away.
I heard you say you can’t change a stubborn heart
I can relate ‘cause that’s how I feel when I talk with you
Why should it take losing everything,
To realize it might be time to change?
Don’t give up on love and throw it all away.
Don’t give up on love and let it fall away.
When did it become so easy to run from your pain?
Don’t give up on love and throw it all away.
Your restless heart won’t win ‘cause you take but you don’t give
And you’ll keep moving on until you learn what love is
You can listen to a bit of the song on the band's MySpace page.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I'll be checking email sporadically, so if you're at the conference, let me know. I'd love to meet you!
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
I just posted my first message, responding to the question I get asked the most.
Check it out and post a question of your own!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Monday, April 10, 2006
Thursday, April 06, 2006
This is from one of my co-workers:
A good friend of mine, and an author of ours, is currently battling cancer on his deathbed. It's hard to describe the magnitude of the situation. Rob had cancer 5 years ago and was on his deathbed, but God intervened and a miracle happened: the cancer completely disappeared from his body - his kidney, liver, bones etc. He and his wife had a child, a miracle baby. Lukas is now 5 years old, and a tiny baby girl (the 2nd miracle child) now rests inside of Sandra. Doctors are debating inducing Sandra tomorrow, even though it would mean a risky C-section, so that Rob will hopefully see his baby girl before Jesus calls him home.
Rob Lacey is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. His passion for God is palpable, and he truly resembles the kind of Christian I want to be - a person after God's own heart. He is doing well emotionally and spiritually, given the situation he is in. But, he has only days left and it will be a great time of mourning here on earth. I know God is ready to bring Rob home so that he has no more pain and sadness. But it is hard to think what pain and sadness there will be for the family who remains.
Please pray for a miracle. It's happened before, it can happen again. If Rob goes home, the miracle I am praying for is that Lukas is not negatively affected by it. I pray he doesn't get angry at God for taking his daddy away. Please remember the Lacey family, and pray for safety for all of them.
I ask you join us in praying for this family at this time.
For a long time, I dreaded April 6. Each anniversary was a reminder of life as it was and would never again be. I would think of that painful period of life and feel overwhelmed by those emotions again. I would think of all the ways the divorce had made my life harder--the financial challenges, the abandonment issues, the sense of being lost and forgotten, the trust issues and insecurities, the way love is so much harder to give or receive, a general feeling of being ill-equipped for adult life.
When I got up this morning, I had to stop and remember the significance of the day. I wondered if it was someone's birthday, or if I had a doctor's appointment or deadline. And then I remembered. And discovered it didn't hurt so much today. And I don't remember the last time it did.
Mom and John have been divorced for sixteen years...pretty much my entire adult life. There's a myth that when parents divorce when the kids are adults that somehow it's less painful. When I speak about being a child of divorce, I often say that mom and John's divorce was much harder than mom and dad's breakup. There are a lot of reasons for that, only one that I'll mention here because it makes the point of this post.
When mom and John divorced, it disrupted my launch into adulthood. Like most high school seniors, I was looking forward to flying the family coop. But when I left, we all left. My house was sold and my family dismantled. All the artifacts of my past were boxed up, sold, or thrown away. When I left the house, I lost my home.
It was a hard time for all of us and I know my mom and stepdad made the best choices they were capable of making at that time. I know that they love me and didn't mean to hurt me. I know that they assumed my perfectionism and independent traits would help me survive, maybe even thrive. We were all hurt and we all went our separate ways.
When biological parents divorce, circumstances can require a reunion. When stepparents divorce, the non-biological parents can walk away. I grew up with John. He was a family friend before he and mom married when I was six. I spent my entire school years with him in my home. He taught me to tie my shoes, match my Garanimal clothes, he taught me my state capitals, presidents and parts to my car, he came to all my games and student conferences, he was present on all my vacations, and he terrorized all my dates. But when mom divorced him, in a lot of ways, he divorced me. The family of my life--mom, John, and me--has never had a reunion in these last sixteen years, and every anniversary, I feel that sense of loss again. I miss the family I had, and I long for the family I want to create.
I think it's the living in limbo that made the anniversary so hard each year. John has since remarried. Mom is unmarried, and has had her own share of struggles, but perhaps has had an easier time because she was adult and she did the choosing. I'm still haunted by the ghost of a family I didn't choose to lose.
What I realized today, is that even though that pain still exists and is palpable when I allow myself to stop and think of it, the pain is lessened somewhat because I have found my own place. It isn't the family I want--with me as the wife and mom--but it's still a place of connection and belonging. I have created an identity independent of my family--through my faith, my work, my writing, my dog, my home and especially with my own family of friends.
My friend Erin is in my family of friends. She encourages me with each scary step I take with my heart. "It's progress, Jen. Progress." This morning, I am grateful for progress.
Monday, April 03, 2006
They have a new book coming out in October, "The Singlehood Phenomenon: Ten Brutally Honest Reasons Singles Aren't Getting Married" (NavPress).
A few of the reasons include:
- Fear of getting a divorce like their parents
- A poor understanding of the nature and purpose of marriage
- Confused about the rules of dating
- Too much emphasis placed on career and success
- Fear of being hurt in relationships.
They write, "Our intent is to provide help not just for this generation but all singles, and to give them a more positive take on marriage and the skills to approach it with confidence. There is hope for the unhooked."
I'm looking forward to checking it out!
Sunday, April 02, 2006
A friend of mine from college, Camerin Courtney, is becoming a bit of an expert on the topic of Christian dating. She's the editor of ChristianityToday.com's Singles channel and the author of two books about being a Christian single.
Her newest book, The UnGuide to Dating, was co-written with Todd Hertz. Regardless of our family background, Christian singles today seem to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find the "perfect" match. Online dating only increases our consumer mentality when it comes to dating, because if one person doesn't perfectly match up, if we ever have a doubt, we can keep browsing. And while there is great wisdom in seeking a spouse with great qualities, we have to remember that no one is perfect. Over the long haul, a solid marriage tends to be more about our choices than our chemistry, more about living our faith in love, than reacting to our feelings, more about being holy than happy. Marriage is two imperfect people learning to perfect their love by relying on the One who is love perfectly personified.
The excerpt below really hit home:
Not That Puzzling
by Todd Hertz
March 29, 2006
I remember once sitting in a car with my girlfriend at the time. All of a sudden, I got very annoyed. I'm not even sure what bugged me. But at the time, I decided it was her. I was bored and irritated—and I jumped to the conclusion it was her fault. I began to wonder right then whether I even wanted to be in this relationship. All because of a slight fluttering of negative emotion.
The thing is, this wasn't like a second or third date. This wasn't merely a dating potential I was considering. We'd been a couple for a while. I cared for her deeply. She was encouraging and challenging, attractive and brilliant, fun and sincere. She was passionate about the Lord and her job. We'd had instant chemistry: Not only did we feel at home with each other on the first date and discovered many common interests, but we quickly developed mutual respect, admiration, and trust. And we'd talked seriously and frankly about our future. In fact, I'd been praying intensely about this relationship because I was pretty sure she'd be the woman I'd eventually marry.
But even with that solid foundation—and several assurances of God's blessings—I easily became concerned about a fleeting and uncommon negative emotion. In fact, not only was this annoyance not a regular thing, I think that night may have been the first bit of irritation I'd felt while with her. But yet, my mind lent this emotion way too much credit and significance. As I stared out the window, I thought, If this were my future wife, surely I wouldn't be annoyed right now. I'd be pleased and content with her all the time! This feeling must mean something. God must be telling me there's something wrong here.
This wasn't the first relationship in which I had thoughts like this. And I knew it was dangerous. It's kind of like that old Friends episode where Chandler realizes he chronically breaks up with women for small, trivial excuses—like the fact that the woman's head is too big. His deeper problem was a fear of commitment. Mine was the opposite: I desperately wanted a commitment, but I wanted the perfect commitment.
My faulty logic was partly because I expected the Hollywood lie of the perfect romance where everything is rosy all the time. A second part of the problem was my assumption God would provide me with a wife who exactly matched all my specifications. I also expected he'd lead me to that perfect woman with huge neon signs, an easy path, and no doubts. Consequently I had silly expectations of God, the women I dated, and the feelings I'd experience when I found the "right" one. Therefore, every little thing that happened during a normal relationship—including the inevitable off moments and disagreements—sent my head spinning. I assumed every fleeting thought and emotion were signs from God. I'm bored talking to her on the phone right now? Surely, if this were my wife-to-be I'd want to talk for hours every night!
In a way, it's almost as if I was putting together a jigsaw puzzle and had one final space to fill—but many, many extra pieces in the box. Eagerly, I searched for that right piece. And instead of just trying them in the empty space, I held each one up for detailed analysis. Looking it over inch by inch, I checked the shape and size, and I tried to interpret the look, the markings, and the color—all to be sure it was indeed the one to even try in the space.
After freaking out that night, I had three important conversations. First, I told my girlfriend what was going on in my head. I believe open conversation and transparency are key to any healthy relationship. Second, I talked to my accountability partner to get the married male perspective. Third, and most importantly, I talked vulnerably with God. I realized from the three conversations that my hang-up, first and foremost, was fear. I wasn't afraid of marriage. I wasn't afraid of commitment. I was afraid I'd choose incorrectly. I was afraid I'd be wrong about the one I married. And thus, I was overly concerned about the choosing.
My prayer times also helped me realize my psycho puzzle search was keeping me from ever being content. I was just expecting too much—from myself, from God, and from the women I dated. My standards were too high. Of course, I'm not saying we should settle for just anyone—but I wasn't being realistic. By putting so much weight on every little quality of a woman—and by looking so hard for God's signs and the specific qualities I wanted—I could always find something that signaled this wasn't the right piece of the puzzle.
I also realized emotions can't always be trusted. Of course, emotions do speak to us in great ways. Regular happiness, secure comfort, or constant annoyance really do say a lot about the person creating those feelings in us. And God often speaks through how we feel. But momentary annoyance or anger or boredom isn't going to always "mean" something. Not only are emotions fleeting and unreliable, but love isn't immune from those things. My accountability partner at the time asked me, "Do you think I never get angry or annoyed with my wife? Sometimes, you'll be miserable."
What made a real difference in my mindset—and that specific dating relationship especially—was my fourth realization. While I was too busy investigating whether this was the "right" puzzle piece, I forgot that love isn't a puzzle at all. It's not a search for one perfect piece or else all is lost. Instead, it's a mixture of following God's will, finding compatibility, and—the part I forgot—choosing to commit. Dating isn't about finding what you think may be the "right" puzzle piece and then holding your breath through the vows to see if you picked right. It's about choosing well (with an eye to compatibility, chemistry, and God's guidance) and then committing to make it work. Love says, "I'm gonna stick with this even if I'm angry at you. Even if I hate you right now. Even if I'm miserable. Even if I'm bored hanging out with you. I choose to love you."
With that realization, I felt tremendous freedom. No longer was I bound by infrequent emotions or what I thought was the "right" one or not. Now, I could listen wholeheartedly to God, realistically evaluate my compatibility with my girlfriend, and work to make our relationship the puzzle piece that fits.