Sunday, May 16, 2004

A Conversation With God About Desire

My 24-year-old sister recently asked me to be her bridesmaid. Did I mention that this is my younger…make that much younger sister? Carisa is a stunningly beautiful woman, inside and out. Truly…she modeled to pay for college. I am so happy for her, and her fiancĂ© is a great guy. Carisa has had guys tripping over her since she hit puberty and I like to remind her that when she became part of my life as a five-year-old, she used to think I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. It was a little annoying as a teenager to have a little kid follow you around, but inside, it was pretty cool to be adored. Funny how time changes things. Today I envy her.

I heard a speaker say this week that the average age of first marriage for Gen X’ers is 30. Makes sense, the generation raised with divorce is afraid of marriage. But millennials like my sister, are the most nurtured generation, and their maternal and paternal instincts haven’t been as stuffed as ours. So they’re tying the knot a lot earlier.

All this marriage talk has got me thinking again about my own lack of matrimonial prospects. I dug out a poem I wrote a few years back as I wrestled to live with my longing. For some reason, I’m feeling fearless today—perhaps it has something to do with the fact that anyone who wants to know my insecurities only has to visit their local bookstore to read all about it. So I’ve decided to share my poem with you. Maybe some of you out there will sense that you aren’t alone either. I’d love to hear what you think.

A Conversation With God About Desire
Lover of my soul,
Forgive me for my doubt
My past precedes my thinking
And I struggle to grasp Your grace
I say that I love you
Yet I take my delight
In my desire for another’s love
How can You continue to love me
In spite of my idolatry?
I want to be a treasured priority
And yet I give You secondary affection
The ghost of my hope comes first in my heart
Help me to want to want what is right.
Fill my mind with this unshakable truth:
I am infinitely loved and intricately designed
For a purpose and a plan that is yet to be revealed
Help me to take captive every thought
That leads me away from the truth that frees me
And give me the strength to hurtle it out of mind.
I question Your love
Yet ignore the love letter You wrote me
Thank You for Your promise to cherish me.
Let me see beyond my circumstances
And daily find cause to rejoice
Not so much because of my circumstances
But because I am not alone in them
Thank You for Your pledge to never leave me.
Regardless of my feelings, I know You will never forsake me.
I have no need to worry about my future
Because You already know it and are in it.
Let me carry my concerns to the cradle of Your arms
With gratitude and trust
Unclench my hands and melt my hardened heart
Open my eyes to see that You delight in me
Even when you deny me
The fulfillment of my most urgent desire.
Fill me with a peace that trusts
Even when the thing hoped for seems hopeless
Guard my heart in the safety of your sentry.
Guard my mind with thoughts that are true:
I am loved and I am worthy of love.
I am Your princess, and your intentions toward me are noble.
Your ways are right
Your desire for me is purity
Of heart, mind, body and spirit
And a character and countenance that is altogether lovely.
When I am tempted to look around for love
Gently pull my face to Your gaze
And let me see all that is admirable
In your personified perfection.
You are altogether excellent and praiseworthy.
Let me have no other thought
Than to love You and serve You
To learn from You and honor You
To find my contentment only in You.
So for now, I ask from you
Peace and patience
As I continue to wait for that day
When You bring another to join my journey.

-Jen Abbas

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The End

My grandparents' marriage is ending. It's not totally unexpected. My 84-year-old grampa has been failing for several years. Mom called on Christmas Eve to tell me that hospice has been called to make Grampa comfortable. After many brushes with death, this time it's for real. Grampa's doctors—and all of us who know him—have been amazed by his perseverance. Every time we've been told to prepare for his passing, Grampa's heart somehow kept on ticking. Some has said it's my Gramma's iron will that has kept Grampa around so long. She's been known to say, "Leo, I'm not ready for you to go yet!"

My grampa and gramma have been together nearly seventy years. Seventy years! Can our generation even conceive of such commitment? Of course, they weren't all blissful years. My grandparents weathered war and trauma and heartbreak. Their marriage wasn't always a model of domestic peace and tranquillity. But in the end, what a beautiful love story! Anyone can love when their lover is lovable, but true love—really remarkable love—is when someone loves another with all they have, knowing that the object of their affection hasn't anything to give in return. In the seven years since my Grampa's heart started failing, my Gramma has become an incredible model of unconditional love to our family as she cared for him, cleaned up after him, laughed with him in his better moments, and yes, loved him.

In recent years, I've developed a fascination with the 40s. I've read Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation and I'm working through Larry King's Love Stories from World War II. Louis Armstrong, Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald have made their way into my CD collection. This Christmas, Bing Crosby joined them. I'm not saying I wish the world would revert back to the 40s, but I can't help but admire the mindset of a generation that valued commitment, honor and keeping one's word. I love watching old classic movies when men and women interact issues with a sort of gentle respect and reserve that is unheard of today. And as a traditional sort myself, I love the chivalry that men showed women in their courting rituals. How many children of divorce look with longing at the marriages of their grandparents as the model our mothers and fathers missed?

I wonder, how have we, as a society, moved from The Greatest Generation to Generation Ex? I was telling a friend about the premise of my book and he made an insightful observation. He said that the sexual revolution of the 60s was a rebellion against the institution of marriage; our generation is rebelling against the institution of divorce. Where the 60s saw people live together for free love, our generation is living together because "I can't get divorced if I don't get married."

For those of us whose spiritual convictions prevent us from acting on our urges, our sexual desires pull us in opposite directions. We don't want to marry too young—our very lives are reminders of our parents' unwise decisions. Yet our fear of failing at marriage can also prevent us from taking the plunge even when the water's as warm as it can be.

I've read recently that the fastest growing area of counseling is marital counseling for newlyweds. Those of us who grew up with divorce—either as children or adults—want to be proactive to keep our marriages strong. Just as we regularly take our cars to the shop for preventative maintenance, we are painfully aware that without intentionality, our marriages can break down unexpectedly. I'm starting to think I have another book in me. Maybe it's just for me, the way Generation Ex began as my own personal project. I'd like to write about the romance trigger. If divorce, by definition, is the breakdown of a marriage, then it must be that the greatest point of impact on the children affected by divorce is our own marriages. My working title is Generation Ex and the Quest for Love: Getting to I Do after Mom and Dad Said I Don't. I have several chapters that didn't make the Generation Ex cut. Chapters on why we wait and why we maybe should. Chapters on learning from our parents' past and how to recognize a good marriage partner. I'd love to hear from you. If you're single, how has your parents' divorce affected your dating life—or lack thereof? If you're married, how did the divorce influence your courtship story?

In memory of Leo "Moose" Manthei
June 13, 1919 - January 13, 2004