Thursday, April 27, 2006

Erin

Happy Birthday, Erin!

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!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You don't know me, I'm just a student in a world of knowledge. I have been trying to mask my feelings toward my parents divorce for a long time. This semester in an Intrapersonal Communications course at SFA my professor went over some of your material in class. I tried to ignore it, but we had to write a paper comparing an event in our lives to the material. I tried to chose a different topic, but in research I found your website and began reading and decided to change my topic to my parents divorce and the toll it took on my personal life. Through reading some of the things that you have written and the resourses page on your website, I have forgiven my father and my life seems a little clearer, less jumbled.
I guess what I am trying to say is Thank You. The fact that you are so honest and open about your feelings and trying to help kids like myself through these hard things in our lives really does help. I want to become a Family Therapist to help children and parents through tough times in their lives as you have unknowingly helped me through mine.
Forever Grateful,
KDM

Jen said...

wow...thanks for posting here. It's an honor to be part of your journey and I'm thrilled about your career choice. I'd like to talk to you more. Please email me at jen@jenabbas.com. Thanks!