Saturday, March 27, 2010

Book Review: Why I Stayed

A month or so ago I was watching the Today Show, and a woman named Gayle Haggard was being interviewed about her new book, Why I Stayed. In a nutshell, it is the story of a wife moving on from her husbands public infidelity, and her struggle to rebuild their trust and marriage.

I had only heard of Gayle and Ted Haggard when news of his scandal became fodder in the news, and I didn't really know about them until reading this book: A little background for those of you aren't familiar: Gayle and Ted are from Colorado Springs. They have been married for 30+ years and they have 5 children. They founded the New Life Church in Colorado, which eventually had a congregation of 14,000 people. Ted was the senior pastor, and was also a past president of the National Association of Evangelicals. (This information is summarized from page 353 of Gayle's book). In 2006, it was revealed that Ted Haggard had engaged in a series of gay liasons, at least one of which involved purchasing drugs. (Ted admits purchasing Meth, but denies consuming any). The book describes Gayle and Ted's journey, from the first days of their courtship through the sex scandal and beyond.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I intended only to skim through this book, as I didn't know how much I would have in common with this particular story or because these particular people (they are very conservative). That said, I ended up reading every page. There were certainly parts that incensed me (see below) and bored me (nearly every page contained passages from the Bible), but I was ultimately intrigued by the things that Gayle said, even if I don't agree with her.

The crux of Gayle's story is one question: to forgive, or to move on. She writes, "I kept asking myself the crucial question: Who am I going to be in our story? Will I be the woman who washes her hands of the situation and walks awak from Ted, or will I be the woman who loves him and shows him forgiveness? The choice was mine". As I've documented on this blog before, I love strong women, strong wives, and I like to think that I have more in common with a woman who walks away from her adulterous husband, but this book made me realize that walking away isn't the only admirable path. I respect Gayle's ability to forgive her husband, there are pages upon pages in the book walking through how difficult of a decision it was for her. Ultimately, my issue with Gayle wasn't in her decision to stay committed to her marriage, but rather, she states that her two choices were to walk away or to forgive, and I just don't see it as so black and white. Aren't there shades of gray here? Couldn't she stay but not forgive? Leave but still forgive? I just don't see those two choices (leave or forgive) as mutually exclusive, or the only two options.

Gayle writes that she knew that saving her marriage "would be the best thing for all the Haggards, not just for Ted and me. Many betrayed women view their children as their first priority, but unless the marriage puts the children at risk of injury, that kind of thinking is backward. If you focus on your spouse, your children will reap the benefits of a restored marriage and a two-parent family" (p 124). Look, I get what she is saying: fix the marriage, and your kids will benefit from your relationship being restored. I get that, but, again, I don't think that is the only way for your child to benefit. I think that the children will "reap the benefits" of parents who focus on their well-being, regardless of what they decide is best for their marriage. (I think that Gayle's list of priorities is too limited- can't you put your children AND spouse at the top of the list?)

My other predominate issue with the book is the ongoing discussion of sexuality, specifically "same-sex attraction" (p167). The Haggards believe that homosexuality is an affliction- something kind of like a disease - something to be overcome, outfoxed if you must. Gayle frequently discuss homosexuality as being "compulsions" to be endured, with white-knuckles if necessary and says that "researchers are trying to learn why same-sex attractions is such a powerful force" (167). Ted describes himself as a "heterosexual with issues" (166). What is never said, but simmers under the surface, is the idea that copping to being gay is a terrible sin, and is much worse then being a straight man who just dabbled (for anyone, not just Ted Haggard).

I didn't have issues with everything in the book. Frankly, I found some of it kind of compelling, thought provoking. In a session with a counselor, Gayle was told to draw a series of concentric circles on a sheet of paper. "See the inner circle, the smallest one? That is where you and God are. Put yourself with God in the center of you rlife. The circle just outside that one should contain your spouse. The next circle should contain your children. The following circles can contain your friends and work relationships. You can't have a healthy life if you have these circles out of order". Now, personally, I don't know that it is that cut and dry. To say that you can't have a healthy life with priorities out of that particular order ignores the fact that not all families, not all people are so simplified, so standardized. But I can appreciate the point that she was making - that ultimately your inner circle should contain just your primary people, and I like that. It makes sense to me.

Overall, I thought the book was interesting. Lots of religious talk, tons of Bible quotes, and while I was sympathetic towards the narrator's struggle, I had a hard time relating to it. I recommend it for someone who wants to read something unusual, unlike the other books in their queue.

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