Monday, September 12, 2011

P4E.215 Observations From Hoarders

Since this blog is about what it means to be a Believer and especially what it means to be a husband who's a Believer, much of what I write here is focused on marriage. I filter a lot of what I experience through the "Christian marriage" filter.

Lately, we've been watching episodes of A&E's Hoarders. At the beginning of every episode they inform you:

"Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary."

I'm sure you may be wondering how Hoarders has anything at all to do with marriage. Let me try to explain. First, if you've never seen the show and are unfamiliar with hoarders, these people literally fill their homes with all sorts of things. Most of the time it's trash, plain and simple. They simply throw nothing away. This attracts insects and rodents. Many times these people also hoard animals. We've seen many cat hoarders, but people hoard everything from chickens to rats. These animals are allowed to run free and use the entire house as a litter box. You can imagine the smell. Many have a penchant for buying new items and bringing them home, never to even open the bag they were purchased in. It gets to the point where stuff is literally piled to the ceiling of the house. Many times the outside of the house gives no clue as to what's going on inside the house. But, what you see inside the house gives a glimpse into what's going on inside the mind and spirit of the hoarder.

And, this is where the analogy to the "Christian marriage" starts to reveal itself. It's what Jesus called a "whitewashed tomb." Many Believer's marriages look good on the outside, but are filled with rotting, insect and rodent infested, trash that reeks to high Heaven on the inside.

After watching several episodes of the show, you start to see patterns in the behavior of people who are hoarders. Many of these patterns reflect what I have done in my own marriage and what Gwen and I have seen in husbands that we've ministered to.

Not all hoarders acknowledge being hoarders. Some are in denial. Despite the filthy evidence all around them, they will deny being hoarders and will apply another term, like "collector" or "messy" to their situation. Faced with the sin of their horrible spiritual leadership, many husbands will deny that there is a problem.

Some hoarders know no other way of living. They are oblivious to their circumstances and are ignorant to the idea that there could be another, better, way of life. The same could be said of many husbands whose marriage is in crisis. I know that if someone would have asked me at certain points in time if my marriage was in crisis I would have said, "of course not!" But, if they had asked my wife at that same time, she would have given a very different answer.

Many hoarders blame others in their lives for their situation. There have been times where I thought my wife was just plain nuts, when it was I who was mixed up. This blame shifting is very common among husbands who are supposed to be exhibiting the kind of leadership that would normally preclude passing the buck.

Many times there are traumatic incidents that push a person who is predisposed to hoarding over the edge. There are so many times that we yell at the TV screen and say, "But, that was years ago!  You're living in the middle of a huge pile of trash because of something that happened years ago? You need to grow up and take responsibility for your life!" And so it is with us men and our bad marriages. We know it's not that simplistic, but again, when the "Christian" model of husbands as spiritual leaders is superimposed on marriage, you have to expect that men rise above their circumstances to lead.

A common pattern that we see is that hoarders will initially agree to get help and can even be enthusiastic. As the real work of getting rid of stuff begins, many hoarders get overwhelmed. They can turn dark, become uncooperative and even combative in refusing to get rid of their hoard. They sometimes want to physically touch every item and make individual decisions on each and every item before it gets thrown out. Frequently, a hoarder will dig stuff back out of the trash bin that it has just been thrown into. These patterns are very similar to myself and husbands that we see entering marriage counselling. Some husbands enter marriage counselling with a smile, because they think that their marriage is sound and that they'll have little or no work to do on it. When they get into it and realize that their wife really is troubled, they turn ugly.

Hoarders has helped reinforce my belief that we all, each and every one of us, in some measure, must suffer from some form of mental disorder. Otherwise, we would all be whole, well adjusted, emotionally healthy, rational people, which we are not! I have found myself identifying with some aspect of the reasoning of hoarders. I suppose this is the first step towards emotional health; acknowledging that there is a problem. Ultimately, hoarders have to make the decision to choose people and relationships over things. Because selfishness is at the heart of many hoarders, they can't make the right decision. As husbands, we also must make the decision to let go of our baggage. In the same way that the garbage a hoarder collects engulfs him, so do our values, our opinions, our addictions, our set ways, our sins, engulf us.

An important aspect of the show Hoarders is that professional counsellors, organizers and trash removal experts are called in to help. In our marriages, we have to make the conscious decision to acknowledge that we are troubled. To decide to acknowledge that we are encumbered by mounds of unsafe, worthless, unsanitary values, opinions, addictions, obsessions and sins. To decide to rid ourselves of them and, as is many times necessary, to get professional help to make healthy decisions.

Somtimes it's amazing what you can learn watching TV.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

P4E.214 Que Viva!

Jon and Dana (pronounced "Donna") married on an unusually warm and clear Seattle Saturday in July. Jon and Dana are prototypical Seattleites (in the best sense). He is a bicycle messenger, studying to be a physician's assistant. She is a ballerina bio-geneticist working on a cure for hepatitis C. He's got a sleeve tattoo of a Gandalf-like figure warding off wolves. She's got a sleeve tattoo with the Virgin Mary. They're vegetarians bordering on vegans. They highly value the environment, lean left politically and don't lean any way when it comes to religion. They have a husky-mix dog named Remy and a fat cat named Cilantro who share their Capitol Hill apartment.

Dana and Jon didn't have, nor did they need a wedding planner. They took charge of every detail of the wedding and the surrounding events. The wedding motif was a mash-up of Fiesta Fancy and Dia de los Muertos. They oversaw the design of the unique handmade invitation. A cartoonist friend helped with the invitation insert. Jon made what must have been well over a hundred paper flowers that decorated the wedding gazebo and the reception hall. The rehearsal dinner was at an Italian restaurant that imports all of its ingredients from Sicily.

The manager of the wedding reception hall remarked that she had never witnessed an all-male decorating team. When I looked around, I realized that she was right. Not one woman was present. Only about a dozen men hanging strings of the multi-colored paper flowers that Jon had made, blue paper stars, strands of lights, and papel picado. We arranged the tables with colorful runners and candles and sunflowers in milk bottles. We placed jars of Dana and Jon's homemade jalapeno jelly as favors at each place.

The wedding guest list included an amazing array of interesting and creative people. Bicycle messengers, scientists, artists, musicians, X-Box game programmers, tattoo artists and tattoo canvases. Friends old and new.

They were married under a gazebo in a pretty little green park. A friend named Santos, with shoulder length brown hair, became an ordained minister specifically to marry Jon and Dana. The bridesmaids wore colorful fiesta fancy dresses and the groomsmen wore khaki pants, white shirts, skinny turquoise suspenders and bolo ties. Jon choked up while reciting his vows, and so did we all. The ceremony ended with a shout of "Que Viva!"

My wife, Gwen, had offered to bake the wedding cake. She had spent the previous two days baking in the little Mt. Baker apartment that we had rented. Before the wedding we brought the cake to the reception hall and for a few anxious minutes we were locked out in the hot summer afternoon. After the wedding, we went back and made the final cake assembly, sharing precious space in the tiny kitchenette with the catering staff. I felt like we were re-enacting the final scene of a Cake Boss episode when we carried the finished product into the reception hall to cheers and applause.

There were some of the usual wedding reception moments. The tossing of the bride's bouquet, the toasts of the best man and maid of honor, the cutting of the wedding cake, the first dances. There was loud music and dancing. But thankfully, there was no cheesy DJ emceeing the proceedings. There was a booth where you could take a picture and it would be projected on the wall of the reception hall. That was fun. There was, I thought, an unusual number of people who took the microphone after the normal toasts to say a few personal words about the bride and groom. There were embarrassing and touching stories. I resisted the urge, but if I had been brave enough, I would have related one of the stories that I wrote about here: A Young Man's Tale. It seemed as though friends were talking of Jon and Dana in the past tense. And, in a way, they were. The Dana and Jon that had stepped up onto the gazebo in that pretty little green park, came back down those same steps as one. The same, but different. Individuals united by vows of love.

I won't deny there was some melancholy on my part. My oldest son. Married. I replay the song, "Sunrise, Sunset" from the movie Fiddler on the Roof in my mind:

"Wasn't it yesterday
When they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days
Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers
Blossoming even as we gaze"

My blessing is upon them. Jon, may you be a better husband and father than I have been and may the generations that follow also be better and better souls. Peace. Peace. Que Viva!