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Our Journey: Steve and Maryanne Abbate of "The 5th Quarter"
Our Journey: Steve and Maryanne Abbate of "The 5th Quarter"

Our Journey: Steve and Maryanne Abbate of "The 5th Quarter"

"This is a path we were meant to go down," said Steve Abbate, "to use what happened to Luke to help others." His wife Maryanne agreed. "I know that won't be everybody's journey, but it was our journey." The family's journey is captured in the feature film THE 5TH QUARTER, which is premiering in theaters March 25, 2011.

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Saving Others' Lives
We Want to Tell Your Story
God Will Keep You on Course
Forgiveness the Hard Way
Keeping the Family Together

The Abbate family was a typical family with a typical story until February of 2006, when their youngest son Luke was killed in a tragic car accident. "It changed the landscape of the family," Maryanne said, "and you hate that because you want to shield your children as much as you can."

Saving Others' Lives
Luke was 15 years old at the time and accepted a ride home from an acquaintance, someone Steve and Maryanne didn't really know. As Luke lay dying in the hospital, the family made the decision to participate in organ donation, and five people's lives were saved by Luke's organs.

FiveFive. A number that they soon realized held great significance for their family. "We felt it was part of God's plan to give us comfort," Steve said, "Because obviously He is the architect of everything. Maybe it was His way of saying, 'It was my time to take your son to be with me, but here's what I'm giving you in return, to give you comfort.'"

Luke was a football player and his number was five. He was 15 when died, and that left the Abbates a family of 5. When Luke's brother Jon went back for the next season of football for Wake Forest University, he took the number 5 for his jersey. At Luke's funeral, with 3,500 people in attendance, one of his coaches spoke and said, "Let's make the fourth quarter the fifth quarter and raise our hands to honor Luke at the high school football games."

The Abbates carried that into the Wake Forest games, and soon others in the stand were standing with them during the fourth quarter, holding up the number 5. USA Today picked up the story and presented it as Wake Forest's "secret weapon," as the losingest team in the division became the winningest, and soon went on to complete their most successful season in the school's history.

We Want to Tell Your Story
When Rick Bieber approached the Abbates about turning their story into a film, they agreed to be interviewed and gave him permission to talk with friends and coaches to develop the story. "They had access to talk with everyone and then were going to come back to us with a written script," Steve said. "Our agreement was that if we didn't feel the script was appropriate, we could say 'No.' The story would still belong to us, and we could all go on our ways.

"It took about a year or year and a half I guess to do that. Rick Bieber spent a lot of time with us at our home, filming and talking to us, Jon, Rachel, Adam, and coaches and other players. He came back with this written script and when Maryanne and I read it, we were amazed that he had gotten it so right. There were very few things we had to change that weren't accurate or were the wrong wording or wrong high school name.

Shooting the 5th Quarter"I think we knew at that moment that he was dedicated to telling this real-life story that was going to expose our family intimately. We all felt like this was a story of inspiration, and hopefully others who may have gone through the same thing, or will go through the same thing, will be helped by it.

"Maryanne and I were left with a feeling that it was meant to be, and a path we were meant to go down. Not only to honor Luke and his life and memory, but to use what happened to him to help others."

God Will Keep You on Course
It was exposing for the family, but showed what Christian go through in a tragedy, and that they can rely on God to keep them on course. But it's a messy journey. "God is OK with real emotion," Maryanne said. "He will meet you there. We never do each other any justice if we're not authentic about that. It doesn't do me any good, and I'll never help anybody if I'm not authentic and real.

"I know that won't be everybody's journey; it was our journey. For some reason, the door's been opened for us to share it, and we both believe that if this does raise the awareness of reckless teenage driving, maybe that will help kids think more before making a stupid decision that could permanently change someone's life.

"The organ donation decision was a hard one for us to make, but we think it was the right one. There are people alive because of him, and hopefully the story will provide inspiration and hope for those who are brokenhearted by life."

Forgiveness the Hard Way
How do you forgive someone for permanently altering your life in such a tragic way? It's a process, according to Maryanne. "I know all about Biblical forgiveness; I've been in counseling, I've spent a great deal of time on it. What I know from my perspective is that I can't dwell there all the time, because I know it has the power to destroy me.

Team before 5th Quarter"I knew that as a mom I could become so destroyed by this part that I have worked with a counselor on this issue of forgiving this person. I do know that forgiveness is a process, and I do think that we never forget what happened. We have feelings, and the struggle is still there. There are certain times I take it back and I have to go back to the Lord and tell Him, 'I know that You bring justice.' No matter what, there's never enough justice because you can't get your child back because of the actions of another.

"I try really hard to move forward and to believe that God is a good God and that there is justice and that whatever that looks like, I don't know. I can't trust my heart, because that action changed my life totally. I've chosen to walk this in forgiveness. Is that a process for me? Yes. Do I take it back? Yes. God and I revisit this a whole lot, but I also know that I don't want to be bitter." Instead, Maryanne has chosen to walk in grace.

Keeping the Family Together
Steve reflected on how the family dynamic has changed since Luke's death. "Since the accident, we don't take any day for granted. We capitalize on any moment to celebrate things as a family and to be together as a family. We know that as with Luke, tomorrow could be our last day with each other. Things could happen at any second. It's probably brought the brothers closer, and they express how they feel."

the 5th quarterThe family continues to find comfort in scripture, like Psalm 27:13-14, which Maryanne held close to her heart that whole summer. "I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart and wait for the Lord," she quoted.

"I claimed that that whole summer," Maryanne said, "because somewhere that whole summer, I thought, 'We'll never be happy again. There will never be joy.' I really believe that was one of God's ways of showing a brokenhearted family that there was goodness, and it was a really beautiful thing.

"It's a hard story to be entrusted with, but I believe that's what that was. I used to say, 'It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.' We wanted to be there for Jon and it was a wonderful family, because it did bring us all together every weekend and give us something as a family to look forward to."

The Abbates' story has been made into the movie THE 5TH QUARTER, and is premiering in limited release on Friday, March 25, 2011.

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