I Am the Dad: An Adventure with James

A couple of years ago I decided to start a tradition during Christmas when I would spend an entire day with each of my children. This has been such a fun way to nurture my relationship with each of them.

The adventures haven’t always gone exactly as planned, but they have provided great stories.

Two Christmases ago James had decided that he wanted to hike to the top of a mountain on our day together. It would be his first mountain to hike. So I scouted out our mountain and started planning our day. Unfortunately James got sick during Christmas and our adventure had to be postponed.

But, I was committed. I want my kids to know that when I say I am going to do something, I follow through. I want to be a dad of my word.

We were living in Clemson, SC at the time and were planning to jump the border into Georgia and hike to the top of Rabun Bald. Rabun Bald is the second highest point in Georgia at nearly 4700 feet. It was going to be a great hike.

It took waiting until April for everything to be in order. A great mountain. A beautiful day. Good health. It all came to pass Easter weekend. We got up that morning and went to the early church service and then headed to the mountains.

Our plan was simple enough. Drive about an hour. Stop for lunch, at the place of James’ choosing. Change clothes and then get to the trail. We were starting later than I wanted but I knew we would be fine as long as we didn’t waste much time at lunch

We stopped for lunch where all great mountain climbers fuel up for the climb, McDonalds. Nothing like McNuggets before the climb.

As soon as we ate the last bite I was ready to get going. I grabbed our bag of clothes as James and I rushed into the bathroom to change.

Now for the, “haven’t always gone as planned part.” As we were casually changing into our mountain man clothes in the stall, I heard the voice of child talking. As I thought to myself, “That is a funny sounding boy”, I realized it was the voice of a very young girl. My first thought was something like, “A dad must be here with his daughter and had to bring her in the men’s room.”  I had done that when my daughter was younger. You just get them in and out as fast as you can. You do what you have to do.

Then, I heard the parent speak.

It was the voice of a woman. Not good.

Now my first thought was, “They are in the wrong bathroom. This is going to be awkward for them. Can’t they read bathroom signs?” As I processed the moment further, I began to question my own geographical certainties. “Where am I?”

As I carefully and fearfully peaked through the crack in the stall door, I saw another person walk in and my geographical uncertainties cleared up.

It was woman.

We were trapped in the McDonalds women’s bathroom.

Half in church clothes. Half in hiking clothes. One shoe on. One shoe off. I looked at James and in a panic motioned for him to remain silent. As my eyes looked down and to the right, I could see the feet of the lady in the stall next to us.

All that was between us and this unsuspecting lady was ¾ inches of bathroom stall wall. Not good. Not good at all.

We grabbed everything in our arms and waited for the mother/daughter pair to leave. As long as the lady in the stall next to us stayed there for about 5 more seconds and no one else came in, I believed we could get out. We would have to be fast.

I motioned to James to get ready to run and not to stop. I counted to three with my fingers and we ran.

Making it out in time we stopped to gain our composure at a booth far from bathrooms. At this point I just wanted to find my keys and get out of there as fast as possible. I found my keys but my wallet was nowhere to be found. It then dawned on me that I might have dropped it in the ladies room.

What do I do now? Let’s just say that there is nothing like explaining to a teenage McDonald’s employee that you may have left your wallet in the ladies room when you are not lady. You should give it try.

I got my wallet.

James and I went to the car and laughed hard. I also thought to myself, “That’s almost the kind of stuff grown-ups got to jail for.”

We did make to the trail and ultimately to the top of Rabun Bald. We laughed all the way up and down the mountain about our adventure in the ladies room at McDonalds.

FYI – We always double check the bathroom signs these days.

027

At the start of the hike

030

4700 ft above sea level. The top!

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I Wish We Would Have Done this Early in Our Marriage

Shelley has been a place of wisdom and help for me. She has been amazing at helping work through so many decision, both big and small in my life.

There have been times when I have not been able to think clearly and she has thought for me. There have been times when I wasn’t at my best and she has been my strength. I would have made a lot more bad decisions if I did not have her to lean on. There have also been times when I have been that for her.

But, then comes those moments when we are faced with a decision and neither one of us is at our best to know what is right.

Those are tough moments that I believe can be navigated well. I believe that because we learned the hard way.

That happened to us in 2006 while living in Boston. We had been walking through a 3 years stretch that included moving across the country to start a church. We experienced the birth of our first two children. We had deaths and near tragedies in our families. Ministry was as hard as it had ever been in my life. It was an amazing stretch of time but also a hard stretch of time. We were tired, to say the least.

During that year, we began looking for a “way out” of our circumstances believing that a change would make life easier. The big mistake was that we nearly isolated ourselves in the decision making process. When an opportunity came, we took it without any significant input from anyone.

Though we had great friends in our lives, we never really opened ourselves up to the counsel of another married couple.

Neither one of us was really in a place emotionally to make the important decision we were attempting to make. As a result, I believed we missed God in that decision and we paid the price for that. (See My Biggest Fan)

I regret that one decision more than any other we have made in our marriage.

There would have been so much value in having an older married couple in our lives that we trusted, that knew our marriage, and that we allowed to speak into our marriage.

I think of it like this. We go into marriage having no idea what marriage is really like. We had never made major life decisions like you do in marriage. We had never dealt with conflict like you do in marriage. We had never dealt with money like you do in marriage. Yet, for the most part, we go into marriage and attempt to do these things alone as a couple.

Married couples, especially those in their first few years of marriage, need the outside voice of a couple who loves them and is willing to speak wisdom into their marriage.

Here is the tricky thing:

To be completely honest though, because of my own pride, I am not sure that I would have welcomed that kind of input. I don’t know this for a fact, but my guess is that many men would feel the same. Men don’t like to “ask for directions” but we need to humble ourselves, admit we need them, and pull over and ask for help. The same is true for our marriages. We need to pull over and ask for directions.

If I could go back and have that kind of couple in our life I would have asked them things like:

1) What decisions should we be making now with our money that we don’t even know to make?
2) How do we make decisions when we can’t come to an agreement?
3) How do you fight?
4) Do you see anything in our communication or lack of communication that we may not be seeing?

Then, when big decisions, like a potential move across the country, are on the table I would want to ask them what they think. Does this make sense? Are we approaching it right? Should we even make this decision? Are there red flags?

I would want to be open and teachable when they would say things like, “We think you need to slow down.” “You two are not thinking straight.” “We don’t see this as a wise decision right now.” “Have you thought about it from this angle?”

I know that would have been hard, but I also know it would have been good.

If you are looking for that couple, then who should it be? These are my initial thoughts.

1) One that you believe sets a good example in marriage.
2) One that you can spend face-to-face time with on some kind of regular basis.
3) One that has already made some decisions in their marriage.
4) One that you trust will have your best interest in mind.
5) One that will be honest with you even if it is hard.

I believe that if I were humble enough and had pursued that type of couple to be in our lives, we could have made some much better decisions early on.

Now, we have that in our lives and it is refreshing and life giving.

I wish we would have done that early in our marriage. Better late than never.

What Writing About Our Marriage has Taught Me About Marriage

When I started this little blog back in December it was because of my wife. She didn’t make me do it or even know that I was doing it. I started it because it was an inexpensive and creative anniversary gift for her. I wanted her to know that I wanted the world to know how great of a wife she has been for 16 years. (See 16 Things). I wrote the first post, published it, and then told Shelley to go check out my new blog. It was a fun moment.

After I wrote that first blog post I started thinking of some of the great stories that have shaped our marriage and started writing. It has been incredibly fun to think about our adventures and decisions, both good and bad. Shelley has read everything I have written before I have posted it.

It has been a great exercise in growing in gratitude for my marriage. Here are a few things that writing about my marriage has taught me about my marriage.

1) I want to communicate gratitude not arrogance
I do want everyone to know that I have a great marriage. I want people to know that we are learning how to love each other well.

But, I also want to be sensitive to those who may be walking through a hard marriage or coming out of a failed marriage. I don’t ever want to give the impression that, if you haven’t experienced what we have, then you have failed. I don’t ever want to unintentionally communicate that my marriage is perfect. I don’t ever want anything I write to cause frustration to someone who may have a different experience.

I don’t ever want to give off that “my dad can beat up your dad” attitude about my marriage.

I know many people who are walking through hard seasons in their marriage. I know many couples who have not made it through their hard seasons with their marriage intact.

Hopefully, I have communicated gratitude and even an encouraging thought or two.

2) It has taken both of us to have the kind of marriage we have
As I have reflected on a lot of our big moments and stories, it has highlighted the fact that it has taken both of us. That may seem like a no brainer but it can never be said enough and no one said it better than Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston, “It takes two baby.”

Within the first year of our marriage we moved from Little Rock, AR. to Fort Worth, TX. for me to finish graduate school. I will never forget the moment when we were about to walk out of our first apartment for the last time. Shelley got emotional as we hugged. Stepping out into our first adventure, through her tears she said, “We come as a package”.

We have been saying and living that statement out ever since. We have had that statement on a piece of paper hanging on our fridge since May of 1999.

There have been so many decisions about life, parenting, and our relationship that have taken every bit of both of us. There have been moments when I have had to lean completely on Shelley to help me get through hard moments. There have been moments when she has had to lean on me in the same way.

I can’t imagine having to carry our marriage by myself for the past 16 years. I am grateful for our partnership in life.

3) All of our marriages have a big target on their backs.
I can’t ever imagine our marriage falling apart but I don’t ever want to let my guard down. As 1 Peter 5:8 says. “Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  I have known several couples who have appeared to have invincible marriages only to see them fall apart. It is heart breaking.

It does remind me that the moment I think my marriage is invincible it is the moment we open ourselves up to attack.

I want to keep my guard up. I want to fight more than ever to have clear communications. I want to be as diligent as ever to have a pure mind. I want pray more and more for Shelley’s spiritual life. I want to pursue a deeper walk with God. I want to pursue a greater deal of selflessness as a husband. I want to be ready for the adversary when he attacks.

I don’t ever want to let my guard down. I know we have a target on our back.

4) I love marriage
At the end of the day, I love being married. If there was a way to count the laughter and smiles I have had in my marriage it would outnumber the fish in the ocean. I love the adventure of raising our kids together. I love navigating the complexities of life together. I love just being together.

I picture the day when we are old and still laughing and smiling, enjoying this gift we have been given, the gift of each other.

I love marriage.

I know I could come up with more things that writing about my marriage has taught me but I don’t want to brag.