Monthly Archives: May 2009

A Greater Disease

I’m not usually one to comment on the lives of celebrities (that is a total fabrication, but it makes me sound as pious as I one day hope to be), but the recent unraveling of a marriage has me troubled, and I must explain why.

Jon and Kate Gosselin, of the TLC show “Jon & Kate Plus Eight” are rumored to be divorcing, and last night the premier episode of their fifth season seemed to confirm it.  The question we are all asking is, why?

Based on widespread reporting, Jon had an affair with a 23-year-old school teacher.  That is the most obvious explanation for their breakup.  But an affair is never the cause of a breakup; it is the symptom of a greater disease.

Just 18 months ago I was inundated with pre-marriage counseling, a dozen books on marriage, and countless sentences of advice, so when couples fail the reasons strike me as textbook.  I’m no expert, but I am married.

In this case, Jon’s apathy and lack of leadership appears to have had the direct response of making Kate feel like she has to do it all.  Kate’s survival method of controlling everything (she DOES have eight kids) had the direct response of making Jon withdraw from her.

To a wife, a withdrawing husband is torture.  I have learned that women rarely agree to forgo affection.  If a woman isn’t adored at home even briefly, she’ll seek affirmation elsewhere (I am not defending this, but have noticed it in myself and my married friends).

For Kate, this took many forms: she decided that the quiet face of the camera was more sympathetic than a terse reply from her husband.  The worshipful fans in the Barnes & Nobles across America were more supportive than the rolling eyes of the man she married.

I find it hard to blame her.  I can’t count the number of times I have battled the desire to tell a loyal friend about a fight Mike and I had, and of my innocence in the situation, just so they’ll reassure me that I am in the right.  That is the essence of what Kate is doing: she wants the audience to back her up and agree that Jon is a disinterested oaf.   We agree, but in the process we notice she’s an obsessed, type-A commander.

But that type of affirmation doesn’t solve anything.  Instead, what’s left is the quiet awkwardness that neither of them will admit that they’ve done anything concretely wrong.  Instead, everything is coated in generalities:  “It was wrong place, wrong time,” said Jon.  “I have done my best,” said Kate.

What he didn’t say:  “As a husband, I don’t create boundaries or lead my wife, and I committed adultery.”

What she didn’t say:  “I treat my husband like a child and disrespect him.”

This is why I find their separation so disappointing, so threatening.  This isn’t Brad and Jen breaking up out of boredom or because a hotter star entered the picture.  This is a bland Pennsylvanian Christian couple who look all too similar to me and Mike.

And even though I don’t have stakes that are quite so high (eight children and millions of viewers watching my every move) , I participate in the same equivocation.   “Since you didn’t respond the first time I had to yell at you to get your attention,” said Abby.

What Abby didn’t say:  “I demand that my husband be available to me in ways no human possibly could.”

So as Mike and I watched this spectacle unfold last night, we found ourselves turning inward.  We asked ourselves what we will do when we have children, with Mike at work all day and I in command of our home in his absence.  Will I become Kate?  Will I treat him like a child instead of my leader?  Will I bark orders in the name of efficiency?

I would love to say that the difference between the Gosselins and the Rephs is our endless love and devotion, our radar for problems, and our unfailing optimism — but it is not true.  The Gosselins were probably strong in those areas when they were newly married 10 years ago, as we are now.

Instead, the most I can say is that we hope in a God who is the glue to our marriage, we try to love each other with a servant attitude, and we have grace for each other in times we fail.

I want to avoid telling my friends and family, as Kate did Monday evening, “This is not where we were supposed to be. This is not what I envisioned for us.”

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Filed under One WORD (Current Events)

A Symphony Surprise

There are few things more excruciating than arriving at the symphony two minutes late.  The stern ticket master does not care that you couldn’t find your earring, that you got stopped by every red light in the city, or that parking was a disaster. He will not seat you until an appropriate break in the set; after all, your tardiness is not his fault.

This is the situation I was hoping to avoid as Mike and I prepared to spend the evening at the Seattle symphony enjoying the work of Mike’s favorite composer, George Gershwin. I bought the tickets as Mike’s birthday present, and the seats were on the orchestra floor.  THE ORCHESTRA FLOOR.  If you have met me even briefly, you know that this money did not leave my hands without serious cost-benefit analysis.  The point is, we were not going to be even one second late.

The concert was set to begin at 8PM and we left our house at 7:45PM.  Ouch.  We hit a traffic jam and Mike pulled a u-turn that sliced five years off my life, which started the negative visions in my head including: getting in an accident, overpaying for parking, not only being late but being barred from the event, and missing the majesty of THE OCHESTRA FLOOR.

This voice continued until I realized we were on one of the best car rides of our lives.  We were careening through the city like a police car chasing a wanted man – whipping around corners at highway speeds, blatantly ignoring red lights, warning pedestrians with our screaming horn – it was fantastic!  I’m not married to Mike; I’m married to James Bond!

Of course, I would not admit that he had driven brilliantly until we were actually in our seats on THE ORCHESTRA FLOOR.   The negative visions in my head insisted that all would fail at the last moment as we would surely hit a pregnant woman crossing the street with three puppies on a leash.

We did not.

Instead, we sailed through the doors of Benaroya Hall at 7:59PM as the tiny tinkle of warning notes rang out over the speakers, telling us to get in our seats.   We had made it.

Part of Mike’s birthday gift was his not knowing that we had seats on THE ORCHESTRA FLOOR until the moment we sat down in them.  Then he gushed sufficiently about the fabulousness of not sitting in the third tier with 3X magnitude binoculars like we usually do.  This was much better, he enthused.

As the first piece began, my heart rate went from 210 BPM to a reasonable 168.  And then 142.  And then 127.  I calmed all the way down until it occurred to me that I might find Gershwin boring.  It was the symphony after all, it’s not like I was at a Rolling Stones concert.  But how could any “favorite” activity of Mike’s be boring?  He’s the most upbeat, fast-paced person I know.  Surely this wasn’t an exercise in elevator music?

And then the conductor grabbed a mic.  If you’ve ever been to the symphony, you know this is unusual.   He spun around and greeted the audience in a thick New York accent, and then he did an unbelievable thing while standing in front of a serious orchestra.

He started telling jokes.

Laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knee humor.  Of course, no laughs were loud and no knees were slapped for the first two minutes because we were all waiting for our seat-neighbor to laugh first.  We weren’t going to be the ones to break protocol.

But then everyone was laughing.  The mood lifted, and people relaxed.  When I say people, I mean me.  I became even more delighted when I realized who the conductor was – Marvin Hamlisch!   He has won Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, all of it.  (Ladies, you will know him from his cameo in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” He plays “You’re So Vain” on the piano at the charity event while the two main characters belt it out.)  I am such a sucker for celebrity that Mike looked over at me like, “oh NOW you’re going to enjoy Gershwin, since Marvin is involved.  Typical!”

What’s incredible is that isn’t what happened at all.  Marvin’s musical genius far outweighed his comic genius and the performance was outstanding.  As he led the orchestra in “Rhapsody in Blue,” lights were displayed on the side of the stage to make it look like the band was performing in the middle of downtown New York.  More lights hit the ceiling like stars and suddenly it felt like we were all transported to an outdoor jazz club in Brooklyn.  The effect was spectacular.

The wine during intermission, however, was less than spectacular.  But no bother; the people-watching was stimulating enough.  One would think that a symphony in a major metropolis necessitates wearing something more sophisticated than, say, Crocs.  I found out that this is not true for some people.   Mike and I subtly gawked (is that possible?) at the array of Hawaiian shirts, khaki shorts, and the occasional printed t-shirt.

And women were no exception, though for the opposite reason.  It seems this event is overstated among some females in the form of ball gowns, floor-length glitter dresses, and ornate up-do’s.

But I digress.

The second half of the performance was dazzling in sound and talent.  Mike truly enjoyed himself, which was the entire point of the evening.  When it concluded we clapped until our hands hurt, and then ran across the street to The Triple Door for quieter jazz and a drink to match.

It’s such a surprise when an evening that begins like the opening scene of a Jackie Chan movie evolves into something beautiful.

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Filed under UpWORD (Beauty)

Extreme Makeover: Divine Edition

It’s not every Saturday you catch me with a giant piece of drywall.  Or every Thursday.  Or any day ending in “y,” for that matter.  But last weekend I found myself in Rainier valley, on my hands and knees, slicing drywall like it was my job.

And it was, for a day.  Rainier Valley is one of the poorest areas of Seattle, known mostly for being south of anything worthwhile and north of escaping the city.  It’s trapped in that tight place of being both undesirable and overlooked, which is exactly why the Rainier Avenue Church was looking more than a little worse for wear.  Despite being a crucial community builder and well-loved house of worship for the Rainier residents, it had fallen into disrepair and needed a makeover.  Not a little mascara and brow wax – no, this called for a hand-me-the-scalpel-we’re-going-under-the-knife face lift.

And who better to approach for help with a makeover than a sister?  Lucky for this church, her big sister came in the form of a wealthy suburban church armed with people and product.  Thus, First Presbyterian Church of Bellevue entered Rainier Valley (along with a dozen other churches they recruited along the way) and I, a member of FPCB, ended up cutting drywall.

To be perfectly honest, I signed up for painting.  Innocent, clean, straightforward painting.  Besides, I married an expert painter, and if I played my cards right (read:  coaxed and bribed) I could end up simply visually scanning walls saying, “Oooh, go over that part one more time.  Don’t let it touch the window sill!”  Alas, it was not to be.

Contractor:  “Okay, looks like you signed up for painting.”  (Looks around at ongoing construction)

Me:  “Yes, we’re excellent painters.  I’m even wearing ugly pants in case of a spill.”

Contractor:  “Well…” (looks around again) “…it doesn’t look like we’re ready to paint yet, so how are you with drywall?”

Me: (blank stare)

But really, how hard could it be?  Measure, cut, drill it into the wall.  This is for amateurs.  And, um, I’m an amateur.  Besides, I’ve got Mike right there to measure, cut and drill it into the wall, so this is a piece of cake.

An hour goes by.

Contractor:  “Well…looks like we need someone over in roofing.”

Mike:  “Sweet!  I’ll go!”

Me:  (Desperate look of helplessness as he walks away)

Two minutes later I’m paired with a woman who looks less than thrilled to be spending a Saturday dry walling.  We spend the remainder of the day either silent or passively aggressively fighting over who gets to drill, avoiding measuring and cutting.  Drilling is the only fun part of the entire process, the heavenly satisfaction of seeing a wall where there used to be wood framing.  I grit my teeth and remind myself this is for charity, for crying out loud.  Pull it together, Abby!

After lunch (I’ve never BEEN so hungry) we go back to the room we were working on before, and realize that whoever erected the walls neglected to use a little thing called a level.  So the process that used to be measure, cut, drill is now tear down wall, find wood to make level, measure with level thirty times, discover the oldest, most decrepit wallpaper man has ever known, remove decrepit wallpaper, measure, cut and drill.

Somewhere in the process, I hit my stride.  My buddy makes a joke about what a lark painting would be compared to this gutting-of-everything, and I laugh.  We both realize that, bottom line, work has to be done.  It doesn’t matter what part we get to do, it’s just that we’re doing our part.   And it’s peaceful, as Anne Lamott once wrote, “it’s monk’s work.”

After all the walls are complete, and Mike and I have gotten ready to leave, I say hello to a young man who says he’s a member of the church.  Mike asks  him a few questions and discovers he’s from Kenya.

“You came to my church today, and I’m going to your church tonight.  Maybe I’ll see you there?” he asks.

Yes, we tell him, and smile as we got in the car to head home.

On the drive home, we marvel at the people crossing Lake Washington today; the members of the Bellevue church going to Rainier to work, and the members of the Rainier church going to Bellevue to worship.

A divine makeover, indeed.

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Filed under The WORD (Faith)

Why is Abby blogging?

(Adapted from a journal entry written in January ’09)

For the first time in a decade I have taken a substantial hiatus from writing.

My last thoughts on paper were written the night before my wedding day.  It is now over a year later that I finally pick up a pen.  I’m not sure the reason for the departure from something that was once such a cornerstone for who I am.  Time played an enormous part, I am sure, but I think it’s something more.

As much as I wanted to detail every minute of my first year of marriage, I also didn’t.  I wanted to experience the year fully immersed, not looking through my normal documentarian, anthropologist lens.  I wanted to laugh, cry, observe, rage, pray, LIVE without the aid of processing on paper.

Also I am certain that I didn’t want to record everything so vividly that I would remember the painful parts.  I have recorded anger at people countless times before (especially Mike!) and it never helps to revisit those pages.  I am finally learning that part of grace and forgiveness is forgetting — and journals don’t let you forget.

But let me be clear.  I don’t think seven days go by that I don’t think of writing about our life or my feelings. I feel an incredible urge most days to scribble down SOMETHING because I am terrified that I’ll forget some tidbit about our story.  I also have walked around all year with an enormously heavy feeling of guilt for not writing about the most important thing to happen to me since Christ.  Mike is the center of my world now, and not to write about it feels horribly ungrateful and dismissive.  I spent years writing about the possibility and the desire to get married (especially to Mike!) so not to write about every moment feels like an abomination.    It also feels somewhat juvenile; he’s my husband, why should I write about him like he’s a teenage crush?  So I haven’t.

And it’s been good and not so good.  The good:  I have learned to be fully present, not racing off to record my thoughts.  I have learned to process without this trusty crutch, and instead done so either with Mike, God, or by myself.  I have spent time with Mike that would otherwise have been spent alone.  The not-so-good involves three losses:

  • I lose my grip on reality a bit when I can’t reason an issue out on paper — and that’s happened more than once.
  • I have lost precious details of my life that I might otherwise have recorded.
  • And, most important of all, I’ve lost a little piece of who I am.  I know this because not journaling left a hole in me, like I was always missing something. 

All of this begs the question — why now?  Why start again and why on the Internet?  There’s not a specific answer except it feels like the right time and venue.  Most significantly, it’s crucial that I address those three losses: reality, details, and who I am.  A blog is the perfect medium to work out the bits of my life that I want to write about.  Bonus feature: I’m practicing how to write.

But can I capture life in writing, especially publicly?  It’s overwhelming.

Maybe I can’t.  Maybe I will.  Either way, it’s good to be back.

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Filed under ForeWORD (Intro)