so much more than affordable.

It’s late.  Past eleven.  Everyone else is asleep, the last school night before Christmas break.  I am still up, writing, and waiting for the college girl to come home.  She just called.  “Hey dad, I’ll be home at 11:30.”  A gift without the need of unwrapping.

Last night Aly and I celebrated our twenty-third year and one day of marriage.  Sunday was too full to work in a tired date. Aly began the day on a Sunday School panel seated by our priest.  Aly is a School Psychologist, a job title until last Friday largely unknown in the national vernacular, and we would all rather it had stayed that way.  The Sabbath day ended with a youth group Christmas Party chaperoned by me, because, YOUTH is the funnest gig going at church, and I like it when church is fun.  Teenagers angling for the best White Elephant gift had never appeared so sacred.  They were all six years old once.  Thank God they made it this far.  Nothing is promised.

So against the best advice of Dave Ramsey, we went out on Monday night.  Not that he has anything against Monday, but he has built a career on debt free dining.  We went anyway, not as a riot against financial peace, but rather because we would have been sorry if we didn’t.

And forgive the comparison, but I thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s turn of the phrase “Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace.”  Again, no disrespect intended, but these twenty-three years and a day have cost us something.  The conscious choices we have made were not the sum total of decisions for the sake of ease and financial gain. To not celebrate would be to disregard the value of the pile of moments that have gotten us to here.  It’s been work.  We still haven’t made it to the easy part.  And what is the fun of celebrating something that requires neither sweat of brow nor toil of hands?  “And David said to the owner of the threshing floor, ‘we will not offer a sacrifice which costs us nothing.’”

As I left for work this morning Aly told me she discovered a leak beneath our bathroom sink. I was immediately taken to the words of Jesus incarnate in the one called Erma Bombeck:  Worry is like a rocking chair.  It gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere.

I exhaled worry and disgust for a moment.  Just add it to the list of required repairs.  Dammit!  And then I inhaled grace.  Grace to splurge on dinner.  Grace to see a solid marriage being built one repair after another.  And Grace to look back at this year of tired dates to see a Divine blueprint for a good marriage.  Maintenance required.

So there is a bucket beneath the p-trap, and a fan drying out the cabinet floor.

And I had lobster last night, she the Cobia.  And with wine, the meal was 134 dollars.  “Eat that Ramsey!”

Sucks for the Lobster, but it was goooood for the Anniversary couple.

Sucks for the Lobster, but it was goooood for the Anniversary couple.

If you squint your eyes…

…and imagine in just the right shades of ocean and luxury, this might as well be a balcony in Crete or a Villa in Provence. 

Someday maybe, we will Tired Date internationally. In the meantime, while plotting strategies to fill Santa’s bag with debt free joy, we will settle for the having all three kids waking up this morning in the same house, one by one making their way out to the porch and asking, “are we going to church?”

I think I’m already there.

image

Hitting the Wall


Provision

We hit the wall.  In August.  No disrespect intended our double date companions.  They are lovely people. Kathleen is an effervescent conversationalist and Dr. Lee is still sporting a soul patch in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve which makes him almost the most interesting man in the world.

But the August Tired Date almost didn’t happen.

We were, aptly, tired.

Of mostly everything.

And maybe even each other.  A little.  But you should read on.

In the two months leading up to August, the majority of Aly’s time was spent tending the apron strings between her and our firstborn Grace Ann who would matriculate to the University of South Carolina on the 17th.  While my wife and daughter stuck to their schedule of Monday, Wednesday, Friday and every other Sunday trips to Target, I preoccupied myself with a wholehearted largess of malaise. Even though Grace Ann would be relocating to a dorm room just five miles from our home as the crow, or stork, flies, the move represented something as yet un-experienced in our lives: one of our children would succinctly and intentionally place both feet beyond our threshold into a world largely of her own choice.

That’s heavy.

And normal.

For weeks our ears stayed attuned to the whispering psyche that said, among other things, “she’s leaving the nest, she will be alright, you are getting old, and your checking account is overdrawn again.”  I hate how that voice mixes the metaphysical with the mundane.

Although not by design, Aly and I went through a relational desert of sorts this summer.  She headed for the hills to deal with her adjustment in solitude, and I went looking for her in the usual oasis.  Neither was where we wanted the other to be.  Sucked.

We became so preoccupied with our circumstance we almost forgot our vow, not to this blogging experiment, but to the one at our wedding; specifically, the one that said, “will you love, honor and cherish one another…when your kids grow up and leave the nest and you cry a lot because you aren’t where you thought you’d be but you love where you are…will you love, honor and cherish one another… because your kids are magnificent and your marriage survives and your faith in God and each other grows through circumstance that you cannot fathom from the perch on this tender wedding altar…will you?”

And then some friends called with a life raft of fellowship they had no idea we needed, which is not an overstatement for the sake of language.  If a metaphor could be applied to our marriage for most of the summer, it would be a sailing one, with the apt descriptor called “dead calm.”  There was no great trauma in our lives’, we were still afloat, even with good provisions on board.  But most days all we had energy for was sitting still.  Not much energy for each other. Dead Calm.

But that’s normal too.

And the trick is staying on board until the winds pick up and you sail again.

One daughter lives in a college dorm now.  A son is learning to drive.  Another daughter looks like a professional ballerina.  They will always be our kids, but they won’t be kids forever.


Their toys are much more expensive now.

And of the many things I hope for their future, one of the most profound dreams I have for them is their net worth in friendships.  For twenty-three years our marriage, like the August Tired Date, has been enriched by friends.

I couldn’t imagine it any other way.  So Thanks, all of y’all.  You know who you are.

And God said, “That is good.”

Double Double

 

First, let me apologize for my tardiness…I am behind by two dates-July and August.  The following is a recollection of both dates.

I’ve heard of a “Triple/ Double” or a “Double/Double” but I couldn’t remember what sport used it as a stat, or exactly to what the term referred.  When I called Kevin to ask him he couldn’t believe I had forgotten the term, especially given all the Michael Jordan NBA we watched in the nineties.


Mr. Double Double

But, I digress….the Double Double I am referring to is TWO months of DOUBLE dates!  Yes it is true.  It seems July and August were prime double date months and, I have to say, we had so much fun!

Our July date with Chris and Lisa has already been recorded by Kevin in his post “Plural Dating .”  I echo his sentiments.  Being able to share the journey of parenthood, marriage, vocation and the “middle” years with others is priceless and NEEDED.  Our date with the Austins in July was spontaneous and full of laughter.


After Dinner, Before the Show…laughed the whole time. Chris cried in the movie.

At times, I felt like I was a teenager again with the boys “cutting up” and the girls rolling our eyes.  Thank goodness the boys didn’t try to take us “parking”. (Editorial comment:  I have no idea to what the writer refers.)

 

Our second double was in August.  Again, it was spontaneously arranged.  Our busy friends the Lees had a rare Friday night with no kids and no “gigs” (that is the artist’s term for job).


Dr. Lee dreams of an Island Far Away

With marching band, dance performances and weddings fast approaching we had to jump at our chance to sup with Kathleen and Chris.  Our neighborhood hang-out Tombo’s was selected for dinner and our favorite waitress Maggie was at the helm.  She knows us well and is also a top-drawer baker/dessert maker.  As with Chris and Lisa, the conversation and camaraderie was abundant.  As conversations of raising children in the present flowed into topics about our future, the food, the wine – and of course Maggie’s desserts – permeated the mood and solidified the sensation that truly, all is well.

When the chemistry is right in a double date you have the perfect blend of conversation, laughter, vulnerability and true friendship.  You know how sometimes when you go on a double date and one of each of the couple are closer friends than the attending spouses?  Well, we had none of that, because we were with friends who are not afraid to be themselves, and allow us the same freedom.  Vulnerability creates authenticity, and these two dates were full of just that:  real, live, good times.

No matter what’s to come, the good and the bad, these friendships bonded through “double dates” help sustain our lives as individuals and couples.  We see that “we are all in this together.”  Just as “no man is an island”, so too, no couple is an island existing separate from the world around us.  Community, friendship, and fun are doubled when you double date.

Plural Dating

When Alyson and I married twenty-three years ago we were the youngest of adults, both a few months past our twenty-second birthday.  From our vantage point now, I would say we were kids at the altar.

Now, we have kids of our own, and with each passing day they live closer to their adult years than their childhood ones.

My sweet wife is now the shortest member of the family. Again.

And while that may seem like a strange way to begin a tome about our most recent Tired Date, a double with fun friends, I know of no other way than to name the overwhelming context of our lives right now: time flies.  And it is scary.

It’s true.  We are afraid.  Granted, we love Jesus.  We pray to God.  We worship regularly.  And as yet, we haven’t found the magic button that eliminates our fist clenching frustration at bouncing checks.  We lament some of our dreams more apt to be crossed off the list than realized, much less attempted.  Our career angst is palpable.  Our retirement plans are but a whiff of smoke in a wind tunnel.  And the kids, well, we have never been here before, raising a middle school-er, a high school-er, and a collegian at the same time, so wondering if we are doing it right is a daily question.

So while you may think our double date with Chris and Lisa A. was just that, a momentary diversion from the rote survival of every day, think again.  In a way, it was salvation, and I do mean the eternal kind.  See, without divulging any of their stuff, I will tell you here that doing life with people who are walking a similar path is not only a good idea, but essential to health.  And that is Gospel, because at its very core it is communal.  The best marriages I know aren’t lived in a vacuum, but rather, in community.

With Chip and Jo…we had no idea how tired we would all be twenty three years later.

Comfort of any kind starts with the elimination of loneliness.  I cannot imagine doing life without dear couples that have accepted our invitation to live seasons with us and have invited us to do the same.

While I won’t list the brilliant names of friends dating back to 1989, I will say an existential ‘thank you’ to all of them by way of thanking Chris and Lisa for going to dinner and a movie with us while embodying the spirit of what we love in all our dearest friends: authenticity.

And Chris, in closing, I do want to thank you for an act of friendship that no man, let alone any person, has ever provided me.  When I was looking at our photos from Saturday night, I noticed a special gesture on your part.  While I took the picture at the movie theater, you placed your hand on my seat to keep it warm.

Real men keep their buddy’s seat warm

Wow. No fear, a tad creepy, but oh so authentic.  Thanks man.

109 Degree Date…by Aly

It’s all worth it.

After missing our date in May I felt like we really needed to do something special and different.  So I thought I would beat Kevin to the punch for a over the top romantic (within a tight budget) date for June. I had no idea what to do, and then the miracle of television provided an answer. I somehow caught a commercial for Clausen’s Inn on between folding laundry and Yoga Booty Ballet.  A weekend package included dinner at our favorite restaurant, champagne and strawberries, and, of course, breakfast.  Father’s Day was coming up, we still had not been on a June date, and I wasn’t about to buy him the yard yeti he wanted at the local garden store!

He really wants one…in OUR yard!

On Father’s Day I rolled up the reservations with a gold ribbon and presented my grand date gesture.  Surprise!  I hit a homerun!  He wasn’t expecting it at all.  Yay, me!  I can do this romantic thing… I just can’t keep it up very long; my pragmatic tendencies naturally come out.  Like many women in the “mommy mode,” I am good at survival, meeting basic needs, thinking of worst-case scenarios, and planning for disasters, or dinner, whichever comes first.  But I can do “romantic” for a day.

We made our date for June 29th, just under the wire.  Whew, back on good “Tired Dating” schedule.  Even the heat wasn’t going to stop this romantic night.  Columbia hit a record 109 on Friday which meant the “loft” room I reserved was a tad warm upon check-in… the thermostat in our sweet retreat room read 90..  We ended up moving to a smaller but cooler room.  Adapt.  And move on.  Good mommy’s do that.

I highly recommend overnight dates!  Even just a few miles from home.  You can truly get away from all the things that pull you in opposite directions from your spouse.  You can focus on each other and stay in “date mode” longer.  After champagne and strawberries, we walked to the restaurant from the hotel, had a lovely meal, and enjoyed the stroll back afterward.  No getting in the car and driving home to kid chaos.

Ellie Kate is a Squatch. Jake has a box on his head. And GA is just done. Mommy radar is always on.

I have to admit I was still checking on the kids until I knew they were all safe at home for the night.  The mommy radar is always on and maybe that is what has promoted my pragmatic mode for all these years; but every once in a while I can push that mommy out of the way and support my inner romantic.  If you are a mommy, and you are tired, that means you need a date too.  Just do it.

Dr. Love

Dr. Lentz peered at us above the lazy glasses riding low on his nose. “The best thing you can do for the health of this baby is to have a good marriage. Dad, you need to love this mother.  Mother, you need to love this dad. Period.” 

Thank You Good Doctor

My venerable pediatrician was now our daughter’s pediatrician.   Grace Ann was eight days old.  For her first visit to the doctor she wasn’t the main character.  Her parent’s marriage was.

Eighteen years later, on this last night of May 2012, I will confess we did not execute this month’s Tired Date.  Not to worry, there are no shaky legs on the marital stool.  We are not afoul of harmony.  We simply ran out of time.  In thirty short days we have consumed bike races, mother’s day, middle school graduation, dance recitals, dress rehearsals… Aw heck. I’m not even halfway through the list.  You can figure it out.  It’s May, the one month where an entire school year culminates into four frenetically packed weeks of familial chaos. I think the last real conversation Alyson and I had was thirty days ago.  The “IverHart Max” sticker stuck to May One reminds me. “Hey, did you hear me? Don’t forget to pick up Biscuit’s heart worm medicine today.” The dog is still alive, so I guess I remembered.

And today we logged eight hours at The University of South Carolina consuming Freshman Orientation with our firstborn.  When we got home the two younger babies had already taken out the trash and set the recycle bin at the end of the driveway for tomorrow morning’s pickup

So she goes to college in August, Grace Ann does.  Jake starts high school, Ellie Kate seventh grade.  In no way, shape, or form will the activity abate, not anytime soon anyway.  But even a hip couple like AlyKev needs to skip a date every now and then.  In actuality, May was not a dating loss, but rather an affirmation of what we have been trying to do all along.  The best dates, really, are the ones that happen neither in escape nor fantasy but in the quotidian rituals we perform with the ones we love with.

When I was a young lad I respected Dr. Lentz with fear.  I guess you could say I grew to admire him.  When he died a few years ago I shed a tear because I loved him.  Watching my kids today I am grateful for his words about raising healthy children in a home where the best antidote for dis-ease is an honest commitment to the work of loving each other.

I wish he could see me now, all trying to grow up, with kids of my own.  I think he would be pleased.  And if the good doctor could listen quietly outside our bedroom tonight he would hear a healthy marriage snoring beyond the door.  And then he would smile, wink at our healthy children down the hall, and tell them to shut up.