Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Divorce Hollywood Style

"In Hollywood," Lauren Bacall once quipped, "an equitable divorce settlement means each party getting 50 per cent of the publicity."

The vast majority of news items that pop up each day under the heading of divorce have something to do with celebrity. Since this isn't a gossip column, I don't post them here, but the Bacall quote above was priceless, I thought, and worthy of inclusion. There's also a mention in this article of John Denver cutting his bed in half with a chainsaw in a bitter divorce. Wow, I didn't see that one coming when he was mildly crooning with the Muppets.

Lauren Bacall's most famous quote, of course, is: "You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? Just put your lips together and blow."

Friday, February 24, 2006

Divorce and schoolwork

Here's a great article from a high school newspaper on the realities of living between two homes after parents divorce.

Want to stay married?

Finish college and go to church. From an article by Maggie Gallagher in National Review.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fear and faith

I'm reading, as usual, several books at the moment. I never used to be a multiple-book reader. My reading habits used to be orderly and straightforward: one book at a time. Now, it seems I've always got bookmarks stuck in at least two or three volumes. The interesting thing is seeing how God occasionally uses this split reading personality to bring two thoughts dramatically together in my mind in one of those, "OK, I get it God!" moments. I had one of those tonight.

As part of my ongoing research and general interest, I'm reading a book by Christian counselor H. Norman Wright, called A Dad-shaped Hole In My Heart. It's a great book, particularly if you're the type who likes to sort through your thoughts and feelings by writing them out (I'm actually not), as the author includes exercises throughout to help the reader process deep emotion. One of his chapters deals specifically with girls who have missed out on a relationship with their fathers due to divorce. In this chapter, he lists a number of common issues, most of which I identified with. One that struck me, because of several situations in my life right now, was the inability to make decisions or take risks. Rooted in fear, this tendency can paralyze a child of divorce and keep her mired in mediocrity or misery when she could be experiencing joy and freedom.

Then tonight, as I read Luci Shaw's The Crime of Living Cautiously, I came across this quote: "As 1 John 4 reminds us, 'Perfect love casts out fear.' Who in this terrible, beautiful world can attain to or experience perfect love--the depth of love that banishes fear? Or an absolute confidence that God is with us and that our welfare is best left entirely in his hands? Faith and love, perfect or imperfect, are intangibles--we experience them but cannot quite put our finger on or define them; they seem to escape us. Such spiritual qualities are, by definition, 'unseen.' we move in their direction, hopeful, believing, but seldom achieving with absolute clarity."

I love that last sentence and the hope and freedom that it promises. We can move in the direction of faith and love that trust perfectly, and we can cut ourselves some slack, knowing that we won't get there in a straight line. It will sometimes be a zig-zag journey and sometimes one-step-forward-two-steps-back and then sometimes a full on sprint before we stop, gasping for air and clutching our sides to rest and wonder at the audacity of such trust.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Divorce Court

Here's some good news from creative judges. In Kansas City, divorced parents may now be required to attend classes or participate in counseling to help them get along post-divorce for the sake of the children. Which makes me wonder about all those people who scoff at staying married for the sake of the children or who talk about how much better life will be post-divorce for children whose parents are in high conflict marriages. Yes, high conflict marriages are hard on kids, but who's to say that those same parents will suddenly get along once they're not married? And who's to say that people who can't stay married for the sake of the children will cooperate as parents after a divorce?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Is It OK to Hurt?

We Americans are all about success. We want to achieve a level of perfection in every area of life: nice house, good spouse, obedient kids, cool car, fulfilling career, great friends. There’s not much room in our culture for those who hurt or fail or merely struggle. Admit a shortcoming and you’ll be encouraged to take a nice pill or see a counselor or start a new diet.

Jesus established the church as a harbor for the hurting. At the outset of His ministerial life, He announced His mission as focused on the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed; and He spent much of His time on earth dispensing physical healing to the lame, the blind, the infirm. I think the church, on the whole, at least tries to reach out to people who are hurting—as long as those people are not part of the church, that is. For those who have aligned themselves with Jesus Christ, we tend to expect things like joy and peace, which are good things. Paul names them as fruits, natural outgrowths, of a Spirit-filled life. So sometimes we start telling ourselves that if we’re good Christians we have to be happy and content all the time. We start believing that hurting, experiencing pain in life, is ungodly, sinful even. As a result, we judge those who are hurting. Like Job’s friends, we assume some sin or oversight on their part. And we stuff our own feelings, refusing to admit that life sometimes hurts because it just seems so unspiritual to admit something like that. One popular preacher says you can have your best life now. If this is the best we can expect, then Christianity is worse than a cosmic joke, as Paul noted in I Corinthians 15:19. The whole point of the resurrection is to let us know that redemption and wholeness are waiting for us; there’s more ahead and it’s better than we can imagine because it’s better than this life will ever be.

If you still doubt that it’s okay to hurt as a follower of God, consider Jesus. He was without sin, and yet He hurt tremendously. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples that His soul was “exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.” On that night, Christ wept, pleaded with God, and sweat agonizing drops of blood. His sorrow was real, so real that we shy away from it. We don’t like to picture Jesus, prostrate and weeping. It’s uncomfortable and untidy. But God gives us this very vivid picture of our Lord to remind us that He knows the messy, unbeautiful reality of our sadness.

There’s another place in Scripture that records Jesus’ tears. That famous verse, “Jesus wept,” is in the context of Jesus’ sorrow over His friend Lazarus’s death. Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He cried. Perhaps they were tears of pity for the sorrow of Lazarus’s sisters and friends who didn’t yet know that he would soon be alive again; perhaps they were tears of anger over the injustice and tyranny of death itself, a result of man’s fall and Satan’s stranglehold on this world. Whatever the cause, the fact is that He wept—plain and simple.

If Jesus can cry like a baby, then so can we. There’s no shame or guilt in feeling sad. God honors our emotions and doesn’t ask us to hold back. Instead, He wants to use our times of deep emotion to teach us about Himself.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The day I sprouted a second head

I'd chatted a few times with a casual acquaintance about growing up in a family with divorce. Her husband's parents are divorced and yet somehow, oddly, still very entwined in each other's lives. The complexities of families, the unique combinations of passions, personalities, values, intellect, and a dozen other factors that somehow knit us together into clans that are as distinct as handmade linens or afghans or sweaters, defy convention or expectation or the experiences of others. I could no more relate to this separate-involved-together-apart kind of life than I could envision living marooned on an island of zebras. It seems to me something that would be unfathomably difficult to navigate or reconcile. We had a good long chat about my blog and some books that I thought she might read or give to her husband.

And then, as innocently as pre-apple Eve, I said, "I can't ever remember my parents being in the same room together." And right then, I grew a second head. Or I might as well have, for the astonished look I received. It hadn't seemed to me an odd thing to say, just a simple statement of truth.

"Wow, their divorce must have been really acrimonious," she said.

"No, I don't think it was really," said I. "But afterward, they just never really had a need to be in the same place." I mean, how simple a concept is that? We no longer lived in the same town; when I visited my dad, my grandparents - who were self-employed and therefore had more flexibility in schedule - would come pick me up at my mom's and drop me off a few days later.

And to be honest, I'm not sure how I would handle it, this collision of worlds. One of my friends used to shudder at the thought of her separate worlds colliding - friends from her hometown, mixing with friends from college, church, work. She's over it now, I think, but not before enduring some good-natured ribbing about it all. She even eats casseroles now (though she prefers to call them something else), the worlds of peas and chicken and potatoes and gravy all mixing together with yummy, easy-to-clean-up abandon. I've always liked casseroles, but the idea of my mom and my dad in the same room is just too weird -- like eating butterscotch pudding and scalloped potatoes together. I mean, sure they're both creamy and tasty and good enough on their own, but they really aren't meant to go together.

They did at one point, and it's pretty odd for me to think about. I have pictures of the two of them or the three of us, a family. But I'm used to us as separate courses, appetizer and dessert, requiring separate plates and flatware. The oddity of this total separateness hadn't fully occurred to me until I opened my mouth and sprouted the second head.

I think maybe this is what people really mean when they talk about the resiliency of kids. It's not that broken families are right or good or that they don't hurt; it's just that kids pretty much accept the world for the way it is without thinking about the way it should be. Later, when they see wholeness or beauty or ease, that's when they start the comparisons and what ifs; but if life has just always been like that, as long as we can remember, the alternatives don't occur to us. The oddities of our situation seem normal, until we see what "normal" really looks like, or at least until we see a situation with different oddities.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Birthday blessings

My birthday is tomorrow, which is pretty weird because I feel a lot younger than the number that pops up when I substract 19?? from 2006. And thanks so much to the friend who sent me a card that said we would "grow old together...you first!" You're only 6 months behind me, sweetie, so I'll be laughing as you're struggling to blow out all those candles in June.

Birthdays are a great time, though, to remember all the blessings God has given us. So here's an off-the-top-of-my-head blessing rundown:
1. I have a job, which can often be frustrating, but ultimately furthers God's kingdom and pays my bills and even is occasionally really satisfying intellectually.
2. I have a great little townhouse, which is a total gift from God.
3. I have a great family who can drive me crazy (and vice versa) but who love me (and vice versa) and who really are terrific.
4. I have fantastic friends who love me, pray for me, encourage me, and make me laugh.

I'm also thankful for (in no particular order) tea, books, candles, friendly dogs, giggly little girls (especially my "nieces" Anna, Caroline, and Abigail), traveling companions (vive les amies!), the publisher who will finally put my book into print (I know you're out there), cooking magazines with yummy recipes, cheese fondue, Jane Austen movies, good music, public libraries, and about a hundred other things.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A garment of praise

I've just finished reading Lauren Winner's book Mudhouse Sabbath. Winner, who was raised Jewish then converted to Orthodox Judaism and then to Christianity, builds a bridge of commonality between the two religions that share the same God. She tells of Jewish traditions and understandings that can enrich the Christian's worship and deepen her faith.

One of her chapters deals with the Jewish rites surrounding death, or more accurately, the process of mourning one who has died. The traditions allow for a gradual return to normalcy within the context of community. Part of this process, particularly for those mourning the loss of a parent, is the saying of Kaddish, a prayer that extols God's name, twice a day, in the presence of at least ten others, for a year. Of this practice, this praise in the midst of sorrow, Winner writes, "You do not have to feel praise in the intense moments of mourning, but the praise is still true, and insisting upon it over and over, twice a day every day, ensures that eventually you will come to remember the truth of those praises."

She's right. When I'm feeling particularly blue or down, if I can find some time alone at home or in the car or where no one else can hear me, I like to sing a song of praise, the words of which are taken from Isaiah 61: "Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, lift up your heart to God; praise with the spirit and with understanding, O magnify the Lord; All you who live in Zion, I have authority to appoint unto you in Zion oil of joy that will set you free." Between the words of the song, the imagery of a garment of praise that can be worn over a heavy heart, and the lilting tune, I always feel lighter after one or two or sometimes three times through it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Perfect Fathers

Reading the first chapter of Don Miller's book got me thinking about the things we learn from having a dad around and what we miss when dad is awol. Don writes about watching Bill Cosby's portrayal of superhip dad Cliff Huxtable, always ready with an apt witticism, a goofy pratface, or a well-timed cultural lesson. He was the perfect dad. Sigh.

It's quite a thing to aspire to, this acme of dad/manhood. Boys aspire to be it, girls aspire to wed it. What does the perfect Christian man look like? He's a man's man who grunts Tim-Allen-like while reading John Eldredge; he's Ward Cleaver with a little Michael Landon half-Pa-Ingalls-half-dreamy-Highway-to-Heaven thrown in; he's a hard, serious worker; he makes his wife glad each morning as she reads The Power of a Praying Wife that she's not dealing with all those issues; leads family devotions; serves on the elder board; grills a mean steak; always says the right thing; etc etc etc etc

Does anyone know this guy?

He's a false image, an idealization. Most men can be like part of him or even all of him in bits and pieces, but bundled together he's an improbably, impossibly pedestaled hope, poised to topple. And he's who boys without fathers think they should be and who girls without fathers think they should marry. The boys cringe at their first taste of failure, sure it's a sign of a genetic flaw. They hem and haw and avoid, fearful that they don't have the mettle for this after all. The girls spot every flaw a mile away and thank their lucky stars they avoided that mess; better to move on and find one that's not broken.

One of the benefits of having a dad around is that you get to see the real version. You get to see a dad who sometimes comes home late, having forgotten to stop and pick up the milk, and snaps at his wife, then sulks in front of the television. You get to see a dad who occasionally aggravates his wife by leaving dirty socks or dishes lying around. And, yes, you get to see a dad who, hopefully more often than not, makes up for it all by unexpectedly bringing home everyone's favorite ice cream or sending his tearful wife to sit on the couch while he does the dishes.

One of my favorite books is The Velveteen Rabbit. It's a classic children's story about a toy bunny who thinks he is real, but soon learns that real is something attained painfully and over a long period of time. Real, for the toys, happens when they've been loved so much that their hair wears off, their eyes fall out, their stuffing lumps up, and they basically look a tattered mess. The toy bunny learns that in the midst of all this untidyness is the essence of real.

Fathers aren't stage props or sappy, one-dimensional Christian romance novel characters. They're real men who elate, disappoint, protect, wound, lead, abdicate, laugh, (ha, you thought I was going to say 'cry' but we're being real here), sulk, and do all the other things that make up real. And, no, it's not perfect, but it wasn't supposed to be. Only one Father is perfect.