Hold On Tight

Someone from our Foster Care agency posted this video. It’s from 2017, so I’m surprised it hadn’t come across my newsfeed till now. If you can’t watch it, the voiceover says:

We’ve done well in life. With help from our adviser, we made it through many market swings.

Retirement age couple, straightening up the house. They sit at a table when the doorbell rings.

Sure we could travel, take it easy. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back. Not when we have so much more to give.

The scene is obviously a situation of a social worker dropping off a new foster child to their home. Then their title of “Empty Nesters” is crossed out and replaced by “Foster Parents”.

So yeah. Here I am crying at work.

But interestingly enough, it wasn’t so much the twist at the end that got me. I’m actually a little too realistic (cynical?) to think that a foster child would so quickly give a hug with this look of comfort and appreciation. Real life drop-offs don’t always work that smoothly.

Most of ours have not been dramatic, just strangely casual. Like we’re having friends over for a playdate, and no one’s really talking about the elephant in the room. The first night has never been all that emotional.

The part that really got me was the shot at the table.

Here they sit in anticipation. They pour a cup of coffee because what else is there to do? Everything else at this point seems so trivial. You’ve cleaned the house and prepared as much as you could since the call probably came only hours before. But to watch TV is irritating and senseless. You can’t go anywhere. So here we sit like waiting for the doctor to come out of surgery with an update.

They share a glance of mutual understanding that says “We both agreed to do this. Get ready, cause it’s about to happen.” Then they chuckle, knowing that they may very well be in over their heads, which is entirely possible.

Because then the foster child comes. And you get the privilege and burden of not only the experience, but also knowing all the gruesome details that would cause a child to be in this situation to start with. It’s the difference between knowing and understanding. Between head-knowledge or heart-knowledge. We could all guess pretty accurately what abuse or neglect happens to families in the system. But when you hear the reports over the phone while you’re looking at the child this happened to – it becomes real. When you become closer to the birth family and hear the cycles of trauma that have been around for generations, the grief becomes insurmountable.

That’s when you realize that nothing in this world is perfect, and the best you can do is to do something. Simply take an action with heart full of hope that maybe it will make a difference at some point.

So they look at each other and smile, with the head-knowledge that their hearts are about to be challenged. But we’ve never been the type to just sit back anyway.

Then they hold hands.

Holding hands when you’re dating is only sensational. You do it just to see if she’s as willing to hold your hand as you are. But when you’ve been married for a couple decades, holding hands is a way to rededicate the vows you gave years ago without having to say a word. When things around us get tough, she will grab my hand and say “hold on tight.”

Too many times we’ve been at that same coffee table, after a really long day with the foster kids or after getting disappointing news, and we hold hands and say “hold on tight.”

Whenever we hear of couples getting a divorce, “hold on tight.” When we hear of infidelity or a spouse passing away, “hold on tight.” When we hear of children who grow up and fall away from their faith or give up on trying, “hold on tight.”

Because if you were to ask me in the best and brightest of days, I would rather be thanking God for this woman in my life than anything else. So in the darkest of challenges, we have to remind ourselves that even though this moment is difficult, this is better than anything else. Fighting for this is worth it. This. We can’t lose this. We can’t let this go.

Because it seems as though the people around us are all facing the worst of circumstances. It’s like they are being dragged away from the fairy-tale life we all dreamed of, the life we seemed to all be living just a few years before. And now attacks are coming from every angle and it’s enough emotional weight to make you physically cringe inside.

Hold on tight. Say it again and again as often as you need to. Take the ones you love the most and fight through the sleepless nights and longest days to make it work. Better to have this than live any other life.

So we go back to the table from time to time. Reset. Pour a cup of coffee. Turn off the irritating and senseless TV. Share a glance of mutual understanding. Acknowledge that we may not know what to do next. But take my hand. Hold on tight. Release a nervous laugh. God’s got this. Our task is to simply be willing, faithful, and ready to go,

because the doorbell is about to ring.

You Don’t Even Know

You don’t even know how beautiful she is. Sure she puts effort into looking good, but she doesn’t need to. She could dress up or not; makeup or not; hair up or down. She’s most beautiful when she’s happy. It pierces my eyes and tattoos my memories.

You don’t even know how much she needs the sun. Not loves, likes, or enjoys the sun. Needs it. She’s like a plant whose flower naturally gazes at the sun in the morning and instinctively follows it all the way across the sky. Her heart rate, blood pressure, and endorphins all change at the first hint of warmth from the light. The ocean has the same effect on her. Giving her both annually is how she survives the winter.

You don’t even know how she’s honest to the core. She wouldn’t take a penny that wasn’t hers, skip a line, or even accept something for free. It makes me blush for every little thing I’ve ever tried to get away with. To be loved by someone so genuine makes you feel pure and comfortable.

You don’t even know how hard she works. If it’s hers to do, it will be done. Mostly with ease, sometimes with tears, but you’ll never want anyone else to do next time.

You don’t know how determined she can be. Not necessarily stubborn, not selfish. She’s determined because she knows the answer already. You might as well give up. She’s too smart, honest, and willing to do what needs done, so there’s nothing that can stand in her way.

You don’t know how smart she is. She hasn’t filled up on endless encyclopedias of useless knowledge just to know it, but she could. She hated math growing up, but has mastered it for a job. She “gets it.” She’s not naive or ignorant; she’s quick and thoughtful. She will challenge you, and eventually you’ll realize she was right.

You don’t even know how funny she is. It won’t come out as a pun or a joke, but to laugh with her is like the satisfaction of a good meal and the relief after a workout.

You don’t even know her restraint. She could cut you with words and you’d have a scar for life. But she doesn’t. She wouldn’t. It’s not in her to do that to someone else. In fact, she’ll do the opposite, and in kindness heap coals of fire on your head.

You don’t even know her heart. You may have seen it or felt it, but you don’t know how sincere it is. For the vulnerable and abused, the forgotten and lonely, her heart beats for them. She would make a million dollars to have something to give away. She would build the biggest house to give them a place to live. She would hire chefs to feed them all (because she’s not cooking).

She’s a great mother and friend. She sees God in creation and music. She loves mornings and food. You may know her likes and dislikes. You may know her preferences and opinions. You may know her quirks and tendencies.

You don’t even know her like I do. In a way I wish everyone understood her fully, because she’s that amazing and you would love it. But I also know this knowledge is safe with me. I’ll protect it and defend its integrity. It will be my pleasure to spend the rest of my life getting to know her more.

Absolutely No Reason

This morning I actually got out of the house a little early to make it to work on time. I thought if I could get an hour’s worth of work in before our standup meeting, then I could basically do the grown-up version of finishing my homework the morning before school. I headed to the interstate since it looked like “normal” traffic.

Then I broke rule #1 of Nashville Traffic: don’t veer off the path you’re on. I know I should always take either the Interstate or the Highway; never try and mix it up to avoid a wreck because so does everyone else.

I head down a side road all confident (like a fool) where I’m met by a train which has come to a complete stop right across the street. People are standing around, looking at it like someone just hit a cow and they don’t know what to do about it. So now I spend another 30 minutes just meandering around side streets like Pac-Man in Nashville. I arrive… defeated.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


After having had a rough morning already, I decided to treat myself to a coffee. It’s warm outside, the rain hasn’t started yet, and I’m walking with a little excitement in my step. (This is the grownup version of going to the candy store). I head over to The Well Coffeehouse. It’s been a while and they donate to provide clean water in impoverished countries. So extra kudos for me.

What I should’ve said was “One decaf latte, please.” I’m not supposed to have caffeine; trying not to do sugar. Instead my eyes went blurry over the menu and I picked the first thing that didn’t appear sweetened: “a Cortado!” It’s a double espresso drink with an ounce of milk. Comes in a little dixie cup. Not quite my jam but lately I’ve been headed in the direction of black coffee. A far cry from my days of only being able to handle coffee-flavored melted ice cream a decade ago.

It starts to rain. I head out the door to make it back dry, but stumble a little. Coffee sloshes out and smears over my hand. Probably lost a dollar of good espresso right there. And now my heart is racing cause I forgot all about this stupid decaf thing.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


All I can think about now is getting home. The past couple years the best thing I get to do is see my toddler scream “DADDY!” and run to me when he hears the door open. I grab him tight and tackle him to the floor and we wrestle and hug. Sometimes he asks questions like “Did you go to work!?”  and “Do you still have a beard?” For a moment I forget whatever else was bothering me an hour before.

Then my pre-teen daughter finally realizes I’m here. She’s also excited but takes her longer to notice these days. “Oh! Hi Dad! You have GOT to hear what we did in class today…” I eventually weave my way to the kitchen where my wife and I hug. It’s a simultaneous emotional flush of all the bad and a recharge of all the good. We attempt to recap everything that happen since last we were together, but usually get interrupted by something.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason…

Except to say this.

Life is full of these little moments. Some good, some bad. Some worth telling about later, some not. I’m busy. I’m distracted by all the things.

Distracted from what? – From the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

What am I supposed to be doing? – I guess all the things!

And around and around we go till we all fall down.

If I’m not careful, this becomes the story of my life. It’s not the worst life to have. But in the end, my eulogy states “He loved a good coffee on his way to work in the morning and was pretty nice to his family.”

I feel in my gut I should have more purpose in my days. Even in my moments. Taking care of my family is one of those. So instead of just wrestling my boy for fun, I do it knowing I’m creating a strong bond between us. And when I listen to my daughter, I give her undivided attention so she feels important and becomes confident. I hug my wife knowing she needs it as much as I do, and if through the chaos we can at least make that moment happen every day, we’ll be alright.

But all the little moments shouldn’t be distractions from what you’d rather do, they should be a part of your daily purpose: to love and good works. You can turn moments of traffic into opportunities to appreciate music and scenery. And getting coffee into opportunities to show genuine interest in people. But more importantly, you can and should insert effort and time in your life dedicated to a higher calling. So when the day is done, you have a good story worth telling.

We can live our whole lives busy and full of activity and have nothing to show for it. So busy that we never even realized there was something to be missed.

Don’t live your life for Absolutely No Reason.

We Don’t Need Valentine’s

Today is Valentine’s. I’m currently at the car shop with a flat tire and working the rest of the day. She’s taking the toddler to the dentist. After school, one kid is in a short-term bowling league, so she’s hauling all four of them over there. It lasts just long enough to barely make it to the Valentine’s School Dance (which is actually on Valentine’s. I haven’t decided if that’s a positive for a couple hours off or a burden for having to do it). But so far, only the girls want to go; the boy may or may not. So we don’t know if we’ll just have the toddler tonight or two boys.

Happy Valentine’s. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

This so-called holiday has never really worked out for us. At the beginning, my second jobs would get in the way. If delivering pizzas, it was almost required to be there because the parents going out on a date wanted to order something for the kids. Or while working at the Ryman Auditorium, there would most definitely be a show, because there needs to be a concert for lovers to attend. Our plans would typically never form, or we’d try to make up for it the night before or after.

But it’s probably bothered me more than my wife. I’m more of the hopeless romantic anyway. Every year since our first Valentine’s together, I would give her a rose on what was our dating anniversary and each day until Valentine’s. Every year! This year she was not surprised because I had left a reminder for myself on the online calendar. And I must have gotten the worst batch of flowers from Kroger because every rose I gave would die the next day. I left one as a surprise to find, but the morning was so chaotic that it was a burden for her to have to deal with it.

Happy Valentine’s. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

I don’t even know how you handle babysitting on Valentine’s anyway. Either you’re asking another couple to not do their Valentine’s, or saying “Hey, you’re single! Why don’t you babysit for us?!”

But here’s the good news. We don’t need Valentine’s. Valentine’s happens the rest of the year. You can’t make up for 364 days of being a lame husband on one candlelight dinner. But you can miss one night intended to be romantic, if you’ve done enough the rest of the year.

If the only time you’re romantic is on Valentine’s, then you’re no romantic at all. What for? So you can overspend on unnecessary stuff to try and pay off your shortcomings? No. (Though why wife says she would not reject jewelry if I wanted to get her something).

Valentine’s happens when I come home and let her take a bath in peace and quite while I do homework with the kids. Valentine’s happened last weekend when she let me sleep in on a Saturday. It happens when I took all her work supplies to her car for her so she wouldn’t have to worry about it in the morning.

It happened when she did my part of the housework while I was having a rough day. It’s when I had a pack of decaf k-cups delivered to her office because she complained about the brand she had. It’s knowing each other so well that the best present at Christmas wasn’t on anyone’s list. It’s taking date nights once or twice a month.

Valentine’s happens with the hugs, kisses, hand-holding, glances, notes, favorite TV shows, and midday messages throughout the whole year. So if this over-blown holiday doesn’t work out like it does in the movies, don’t worry. You’ve got all year to show the love of your life, why they’re the love of your life.

Date Nights: April

DATE NIGHT 1:

For Christmas, my in-laws got us a creative present: Date Nights for the entire year. They recently moved close to us to be near the grandkids. My wife and I are getting to the age where a new shirt for Christmas is a bit cliche, and date nights are hard to come by. So this was perfect. The present came with a few instructions:

  • 2 Dates a month and Grandma/Grandpa will watch the kids
  • You must go someplace that interests both
  • It must not be a movie, but someplace where you can talk
  • Talk to/about each other. Not Kids or Work.
  • Plan and talk about future dreams and plans
  • Talk about any “elephants in the room”; irritations
  • Enjoy this time together. Begin and End in prayer.

Initially, I thought this was the best gift we could’ve been given. Then after looking over the list, we were both a little miffed at some of the rules. We talk all the time. I’m not the quietest person, to begin with, and my wife has no qualms about being talkative. We discuss plans and dreams often. And going to a movie sounds fantastic! We don’t go to movies mostly because of cost. $Movie + $Babysitter + $Dinner/Popcorn, you’re looking at 100 bucks!

Work and kids happen to consume our lives, so I get that one. This is probably a healthy rule, but difficult to tackle. And my wife was not happy about the idea of me bringing a binder of categorized irritations to the table. <– Her words.

The week of Date Night #1 started off poorly. I was busy and distracted trying to tackle the too-many volunteer responsibilities, while she was trying to narrow down the list of restaurants we hadn’t tried. It ended up being a good practice of working through a problem. She was holding in a gripe of me working too long and I was ignoring her. That worked itself out. She told me her frustrations, I told her everything I was trying to accomplish so she wouldn’t think I was simply not caring, and we took the time to listen and work out our plans. Yay, compromise! Kicked the Elephant out before the date even began.

We decided on a nice restaurant about an hour away, plenty of driving/talking time. Totally talked about kids and work. Oh well. We talked about the fact that we already talk about dreams and plans. Felt like grown-ups again. Not just faking it grown-ups. I mean, we’re mid-30s now; do all grown-ups feel like they’re faking it?

The food was fantastic. But I still don’t see how people can spend that much on food on a regular basis. One observation I had might be good advice for guys, so ladies skip this part:

Guys: We get seated at our table, the waitress walks up and apparently without any shame is completely busting out of her low cut top. I’m not one make a big deal out of other people’s appearances, but this was a bit obvious. A wrong move here could ruin a date night for some guys. But my wife’s not like that, and neither am I. Jealousy should not be felt or perceived. So I kept my eyes on the menu, then when she left I talked about the new elephant that just walked into the room.
“Is it just me, or is that not appropriate for this restaurant?”
She replied with a snarky, “Oh, you know it’s for the tips! Pretty expensive restaurant, guys with too much money bring their wives and get a little extra eye-candy.”
I replied, “I just don’t know how someone could be comfortable like that.”
“It’s totally on purpose.”
And that was that.

I wholeheartedly believe that you can be satisfied completely with your wife as long as you are focused only on her. Make sure that she knows that you only have eyes for her. And in doing that, satisfied becomes fulfilled. Make sure she knows that you think she is beautiful, don’t just assume. Fulfilled becomes overflowing.

I failed to take the time to pray. I feel bad about that. We talked about church and religion at points. But my guess is experience and wisdom encouraged my in-laws to include prayer as a rule. Next time…

 

DATE NIGHT 2

Talk about high expectations; Date Night 2 was on our 15th Anniversary. For our 5th anniversary, we went to San Francisco (Heather was about 4 months pregnant). Our 10th was on a Carribean cruise. How do you follow that? By using a gift card you got for Christmas and getting a steak dinner.

It was also the week before the biggest night of the year for her work, a fundraising event that she plans. Fortunately, nothing too crazy was going on so there were no pain-points distracting us from having an enjoyable evening.

We had not been to this local restaurant before (because we’re both quite frugal when it comes to eating). So this felt like a splurge, even though it’s a fairly common establishment for many. Appetizer good, salad good, steaks delicious. Friends of ours happened to be seated right next to us. In this case, that was fun. With going to restaurants with others, there are three camps: people you know you don’t want to be seated next to, people who you don’t mind, people you would go out with. This, fortunately, happened to be the latter.

Now that we totally topped that lame cruise with a steak dinner, how do we make it even better? With a trip to Target, of course! We needed diapers. My parents sent us a little cash as a present, so we bought nice bedsheets, too. Sigh….. #adulting

The thing is, being an adult when you are an adult, isn’t so bad. Are there experiences that are more exciting and entertaining? Of course. But in the same way your dad says, “I don’t need anything for my birthday, just want to have my kids around,” the exciting events will come and go, having an enjoyable night with my wife is really all I need.

We ended in prayer where I told God I was eternally grateful for giving me a friend to spend my life with and wouldn’t want to imagine it any other way.

Taylor, for your wedding

Taylor,

The highest honor I have ever been afforded was to baptize you when you gave your life to Christ. One of my greatest privileges will be to see you give your hand in marriage. I am thrilled for you. You have had a special place in my heart all these years. You’re constantly on my mind and in my prayers. So it’s a huge comfort to know you have found the perfect man for you.

Marriage advice is not hard to find. But the greatest way to learn is through experience: failures and victories, stumbles and success. Rarely are words worth more than the paper they’re written on, but maybe it won’t hurt for me to try anyway. Distance has kept us from having regular conversations, otherwise, most of this would’ve already been spoken. Still, I’d like to give my perspective of marriage, as much as 14 years experience has given me, and hopefully, it inspires your relationship.

The major benefit/blessing to marriage is companionship. It may even be the entire purpose God intended. To know someone will be home when I get there; to have someone to drive to the store with, sit next to at church, to walk beside, to watch TV beside, to watch the sunset beside, to sit together comfortably in silence, to have so much to say to each other there’s not enough time in the day for it. It’s like having money in the bank at all times. In the worst of circumstances, I know in the back of my mind that I have her.

There’s no secret to making a marriage last; you just do it. The fact you dated means you like each other; step one. Now what? Commitment. Both sides. If both are truly committed, there’s nothing short of dying that could tear you away. I remember before we were even engaged, Heather pretty much threatened me with an “end it now or never” agreement. I happily obliged to stay. I don’t remember our wedding vows verbatim, but I know them in summary: I’m committed to her forever. And I have a ring I never take off that’s a reminder to me and symbol to everyone else of that promise.

Sure promises can be broken. Too many marriages have failed. You have to be intentionally and perpetually committed. Every morning, every night, after every fight, and every blissful moment. We saw too many couples split up; surprisingly many were friends of ours in the first few years after we were married. After every instance, Heather grabs my hand and sincerely asks, “are we good?” Sometimes I mess with her and say “depends on what’s for dinner.” (not advisable). Most of the time I know she’s serious then reassure her “we’re good.”

Learn how to fight. Disagreements will happen. You put two people together for that amount of time, someone’s going to disagree with the temperature of the room or how to handle money. So when it happens, it’s best to know how to deal with it. Understand how the other one handles an argument. It’s possible one wants to talk it out and the other needs to cool off first. Some say more than they mean, some say nothing and keep it inside. Don’t manipulate. Ask for advice if needed, but don’t speak ill of each other (even jokingly). Compromise. Be open and honest. Honest: don’t say things you don’t mean, do say the things you should.

Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. It keeps you going. Actually, it seems to center you back to where you belong. It reminds you of the dating days. Life will get mundane at times and laughing is the spark that recalls all the reasons you’re in this relationship. It makes you sigh with relief. In marriage, it’s a smile not just at the moment, but for the life you’re living.

Need each other. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit you need, but a humble awareness that together you’re stronger, better. Both of you have strengths and weaknesses that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; two pieces that don’t fit or belong anywhere else. And if you have children in the future, may they be an extension of the strong relationship you’ve already created.

Build each other up. Enjoy life together. Be on the same page. Don’t expect too much. Have each other’s interests in mind. Surprise. Delight. Enjoy. Never take it for granted. Put God first. Love down to your core. Love to the point words can’t describe it.

Enjoy your wedding day and every day after. Marriage is the best. May yours feel like a dream come true, and every day you pinch yourself knowing yours is the kind to thrive for a lifetime.

A Rose A Day

February was approaching and I knew that I had two dates that I shouldn’t screw up. First was our dating anniversary. Two. Whole. Months. Yes, when dating, you celebrate benchmarks the same way you give a baby’s age: by months. “My baby’s 20-months-old.” No, he’s not. People just don’t math like that. You can choose between a “year-and-a-half” or “almost-two.” Ok? After a year, month-counting should fade away. Anyway, our dating anniversary was the 4th. It was only two months, so there’s the decision of how big this celebration should be. Just dinner? An actual gift? Like, a card? Fake jewelry? (cause this broke college kid ain’t buying much over $20).

Then BAM! It hit me. “I’ll get her flowers, but we also have Valentine’s Day coming up. Do I buy them twice?” This is where goofy, undateable Jared turned into the charming romantic we all know and love today. I bought a dozen flowers and kept them in my dorm. The morning of the 4th, I surprised her with a rose. “Aw, you remembered our dating anniversary!” Yes. Yes, I did. Then on the morning of the 5th, I gave her another rose. “What? Why? You just gave me one!” I know, oh yes, I know. Then at various times of day and different places I would give her another of the dozen each day all the way up to Valentine’s. And I’ve done the same thing. From the 4th to the 14th. Every year. For 16 years.

*drops mic, walks off stage*

Genius #1: Cost savings (let’s be honest). It’s just one bunch of flowers. No vase or arrangement needed.

Genius #2: Taking what would’ve been a single happy moment of delivering flowers, and making it exponentially better. Not only just 11 times more because it’s one a day, but even more so because it’s unique.

Genius #3: It doesn’t matter that I’m doing the same thing every year. Many times she forgets about it and creates a delightful surprise. Plus it gives me something easy to remember to do every year.

Genius #4: It’s totally fun. I love the creative aspect. When am I going to sneak it to her today? One day this year I left it in the snow on her windshield. Another day I dropped it off at her work before she arrived. (Trying to think how to attach a rose to the baby without him eating it).

A slight downside is now that I’ve done it for so long, I have to always do it, and it’s difficult to always remember. I was late by a day or two a couple years ago. Sometimes I’ve chosen a less-than-optimal time to give one. Like this year, I picked an unwise time of day. I gave her the first one when the baby woke up crying in the middle of the night. Quote “HUH!? uhg.. jared… *sigh* you’re ridiculous.” Once I snuck a rose over the shower curtain. Side note: my wife does not like being scared. I repeat, does not.

And just today she was at home alone when the delivery truck for the dishwasher came. They had to turn off the main water valve, which is where I keep my stash of flowers. Busted.

I haven’t always been the best at doing something special on Valentine’s night either. There’s a whole lot of pressure here. You’ve heard it said that Valentine’s was created just as a marketing scheme to get guys to buy stuff. I haven’t ruled that idea out. But for many years, I had a second job that forced me to work on the 14th. Having kids just makes it that much more difficult. Mostly because you don’t want to ask someone “Hey, you’re not doing anything for Valentine’s. Wanna babysit?”

We’ve managed to make the best out of it. Alternate days, lunch not dinner, some creative desserts, and dusting off the china.

So if I had any tips for guys:

This not-always-perfect Valentine’s works for us because we’re doing well as a couple the other 364 days of the year. (Well, maybe like 352 days). One superficial holiday is not going to mend underlying problems.

Do your thing. Don’t do my idea or anyone else’s. You have a unique relationship and it calls for something more than simply taking her to a restaurant.

But also, make sure you still do Valentine’s. Don’t brush it off. You can’t skip it. Even if she tells you to and she’s not “that kind of girl.” You have to do Valentine’s. Really. You have to. I’m not kidding.