Thursday, 30 August 2012

From Diapers to Backpacks

Once upon a time, we had a baby, and another, and another, until we had three children under the age of four. And I was tired, and often felt isolated, and lonely for adult conversation, and perpetually overwhelmed, and my house was always messy because every task I endeavored to do was promptly interupted by a child needing affection, attention, or correction. Or juice in their sippy cup. And it was loud. All the time. From the time they woke up until they were tucked in at night, there was constant noise. I felt "stuck" at home, like the walls of my small home were closing in around me, and that if I didn't get "out" of the house I was going to suffocate. Or scream and throw things. But getting "out" was even more overwhelming than staying home because I had three kids under the age of four, it was 20 degrees below zero outside, and our home did not have a back yard in which they could play. No matter how often I heard that this stage would "fly by" so quickly, and I should enjoy every moment, I felt that this stage was never going to end- that I would be in the stage of diapers, lost pacifiers, crayon on the walls, cutting up grapes, and temper tantrums forever.

Some time went by and another baby was had, so now there were four children under age six. The house was now bigger, the yard provided space to run, and (after a few years of practice) I could now bundle all four of them in head-to-toe winter gear in less than 15 minutes.  The children slowly began to be able to do things for themselves, work out some conflicts without mediation, and be left on the couch watching "Dora" for fifteen minutes while I took a shower without too much fear of needing to call 911 upon completion. I began to make trips to the grocery store that did not end in frustrated tears, and my world began to feel a little bit bigger.

One day, the oldest went off kindergarten, then another, and another, until I had just the baby at home with me during the day. Somehow, toddler antics did not seem as overwhelming when there was only one of them. And some time went by, and the baby went off to kindergarten, too. And just like that, the stage of babies and toddlers is over. The years of strollers, potty training, and play dates that are really more for the moms than the kids have been replaced with backpacks, science projects, football cleats, and music lessons. And I'm still usually tired, it's still a little bit chaotic, and my house is still usually messy because the pace of life is faster now, with schedules and activities and homework. I no longer feel "stuck" at home or isolated from adult interaction, but I do feel a different kind of loneliness without the constant presence of my children. And it's quiet. For seven hours a day, there is no noise except what I create. That kind of quiet is its own kind of loud.

I still can't say that the stage of babies and toddlers "flew by," but I can say I can't believe it's gone already. And I can't say that I enjoyed every moment, but I can say that I look back on those early days and smile at the memories, and feel thankfulness that I was at home with my children, and encouragement from the things I learned and the ways I grew. So, here's to embracing this next stage... to all the lessons to be learned, the growth to be had, the memories to be made... for it will surely pass as quickly as the first one did...

"The days are long, but the years are short."
-Gretchen Rubin

Friday, 27 July 2012

Why I'm All About the No (but maybe shouldn't be)

"No" and all it's variations (we'll see, not now, maybe later, I don't think that's necessary,etc) become my go-to answers in the summertime. I have four children making requests of me all day long. "Mom, can I have ice cream? For breakfast? Can we go to the zoo even though it's 105 degrees out? Can we take four friends with us and go swimming? In Lake Michigan? Can you make this? Fix this? Do that? Can I take horseback riding lessons? Get a horse? A puppy? A zebra? Can you rearrange my room? Buy me new stuff? Paint my walls lime green?" The requests never end. "No" is just easier, frankly. "Yes" means extra work, extra messes, extra noise and chaos, less actual productivity.  As summer has progressed, the tension level in our house has noticeably increased as the kids get bored and tired of being home together all day, everyday. So yesterday I decided I was going to be more about the "yes." And here is some of what happened:

"Mom, can Girl-across-the-street sleep over?" After a sigh, I said yes. The boy whined, because he was even more outnumbered, and has been promised a sleepover that he has not yet collected on, and it wasn't fair. They spent the evening in and out, up and down, couldn't get settled, still awake when we finally went to bed at 1 AM.

"Mom, can you set up the tent for us so we can sleep outside in it?" My initial mental response was, "No- you never stay outside when you try to do that," followed by, "Fine- wait until your dad gets home, and you may ask him if he will do it for you." Then I thought of my dear husband- battling a sinus infection, working hard at the office, his late nights and early mornings, ministering and giving to anyone in need without a second thought. The mental process became, "If I can set up the tent, he won't have to do it." So I ventured outside into the sauna-like humidity and figured out that tent, dripping with sweat and with the "help" of four kids with very definite ideas of how it should go, but who offered very little actual assistance. Then I did it all over again after a freak late afternoon thunderstorm knocked it down. Actually, three soaking wet girls thrashing about trying to get themselves and their belongings out of it knocked it down, which made for quite a good laugh as I watched from the window.  Then Mack came home. And spent 30 minutes fixing my tent assembly "mistakes." And my dear husband said grouchily to me, "Don't ever try to put that tent up again. Just let me do it." Deal. Sounds like a plan.

The boy whined that he didn't get to sleep outside with the girls, and it wasn't fair, and "What do you mean it's not appropriate for me to sleep next to a middle school girl who's not my sister?" And there was extensive discussion, bargaining, and petitioning regarding exactly who was going to sleep where. Then the campers needed dessert, and water, and to use the bathroom. Girl-across-the-street needed to run home and say goodnight to her mom. Then the frogs were too loud. Then they were too hot. By 10 PM, everyone was inside, and they discussed, bargained, and petitioned all over again. Which I knew would happen. And I remembered why I'm all about the no.

Then I remembered earlier in the day, when C-Ray brought to me the pieces of a basketball hoop that was supposed to fit over the top of his door. He couldn't figure out how to put it together, could I help him? I looked at the dirt on the floor and the pile of dishes in the sink I was trying to tackle. I said "yes." I slid the plastic brackets into the cardboard backboard and demonstrated for him on the pantry door how it should go. It took less than two minutes. He grinned up at that flimsy little hoop, gave me the kind of boisterous hug that only a little boy can give, and hollered, "Wooo-hooo! Mom, you're a super hero." That "yes" made the hassles from all the other "yeses" totally worth it. And I think I'll keep the cape...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Thoughts on Marriage

I have no counselling degree. I can count the number of books I have read about marriage on my fingers. I am no expert, save what 12 years of experience, observations of marriages good and bad, and some wise people have taught me. Here are a few things I have gleaned.

If you go into marriage expecting your married life to be like your dating life, you are setting yourself up for disillusionment. No one is perfect. I'm not, why should I expect my spouse to be? It is not the responsibility of my spouse to make me constantly happy, confident, or completely emotionally fulfilled. It is my responsibility to seek and find those things in the Lord. If I cannot find those things in Him, then no human can make me find them. Another person knowing me as well as I know myself, except with more clarity because he is not mired down by the chaos that sometimes clouds my mind, is both a beautiful and frightening thing. Sometimes you don't have to talk. It's better to just "be." The toilet seat issue is really not worth getting upset about. Neither are socks on the floor or neckties on the doorknobs. It doesn't matter who takes out the garbage, as long as it gets taken out. Being right is not as important as doing right. Just say "thank you" whether you like a gift or not. Simply because you know the right buttons to push to get a reaction doesn't mean that you should push them. "Never go to bed angry" is possibly some of the worst marital advice I ever received. Sometimes it's just not beneficial to be shouting or talking in circles about a disagreement at 2 AM when you are both exhausted, irrational, and blinded by your own emotions. Sometimes, if you agree to sleep on it and revisit the discussion the next day, morning gives you a whole different perspective. It is impossible to over-estimate the power of an encouraging word or underestimate the fragility of the male ego. Laughter is crucial. Sometimes there are no easy answers, no quick solutions, but a full-fledged laugh-til-you-cry-at-the-most-inopportune-moment makes everything look a little brighter and reminds you that there is no person with whom you would rather face hard things than the one by your side.  Children are a beautiful product of the relationship, but they should not define the relationship. If you invest all your time and energy into your children, rather than reserving some for your marriage, you will wake up one day with an empty nest, living with a very nice roommate, rather than a soulmate. Sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness, rather than permission, but usually not. Just own up to it when you make a mistake. Your spouse's help in fixing a problem is much more valuable than avoiding their anger or frustration. It's really nice to have a life-long, always there "wing man" with unknown situations and new people, and a partner for any adventure. You will inevitably take on character traits of your spouse over time. Make sure they have a character worth adopting. If they have a trait that annoys you before marriage, don't count on changing it afterwards. Make sure that you are prepared to live with your spouse as they are on your wedding day. Assume that they won't grow or improve. If they never do, you won't be disappointed, and if by chance those troublesome qualities disappear with wisdom and maturity, you have received an unexpected blessing. Love does not sustain your marriage, the commitment of marriage sustains your love. It really does grow and deepen with age and time, if you do it right. Love becomes much more about actions than feelings. To love is a choice. An all-day, every-day choice. It is what is left after all selfishness has been removed.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Rewind: A Look Under the Hood

Mack's parents threw him a surprise party for his seventeenth birthday. I'm not quite sure how I ended up there, as our friendship had only just begun. But nevertheless, there I was, with some other friends from church and a handful of friends from his school. I don't remember many details. I know I met his sister and her family for the first time, but I barely remember that, except for how adorable his little red-headed niece and nephew were. I'm sure there were cake and presents. We probably played some games. But one moment is crystal clear, as if it happened yesterday. A group of us ventured out to the workshop to see the car he was rebuilding with his dad. A 1966 Chevelle that he had bought at the estate sale of a great uncle when he was maybe thirteen. He paid $250 for it, with money he had earned on his paper route. Now, I know nothing about cars. But I'm a history nerd. I love antiques, interesting old finds, and I've always thought vintage cars were very cool. When I exclaimed over his dusty old car, he looked at me with what I can only describe as shock. I listened as he told me with pride how he had acquired it, what he and his dad were doing to it, and all it would be when it was finished. Looking back, I realize that those few minutes provided one of my first glimpses at who Mack is deep inside: a dreamer, a visionary, a do-er, a collector, a tinkerer, a worker, and a sentimentalist. It was a short list, but would only grow from there. In my mind, I quietly doubted that old car would ever be all he said. And right there, I should have learned something else about my Mack. He is stubborn and persistent and doesn't give up when he sets his mind to something, and I shouldn't ever doubt what he says he will accomplish. But it took a few more years for me to learn that particular lesson. He did indeed get that old car running. And he gave me the honor of giving her a name: we called her the She-Devil. Our first dates would be in that car. I could hear her pipes the moment Mack would turn down my street to pick me up, and the way an old car smells as it burns through fuel stays with me. Mack loved that car, but time went by, and growing up had to be done, and the She-Devil was sold to help provide for an ever-growing family. Though she's been gone for years, she holds a special place in both our hearts. Even now, if an old classic rolls by me on the road, and I happen to hear that distinct rumble and catch a whiff of her engine running as she cruises by, my heart skips a beat. For just a moment I'm eighteen again, with the wind in my hair, holding the hand of the boy who would hold my heart for a lifetime.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Choosing Gratitude

Some friends and I are doing a study on the book "Choosing Gratitude" by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I was kind of skeptical going into this book- viewing gratitude as one of those "icing on the cake" kind of spiritual attributes, but certainly not as "important" as service, patience, unconditional love, etc. I actually wondered how someone was going to write a 150 page book on the concept of being thankful. Ironically, the author addresses this very mentality in the first few pages.

But what I am learning is that gratitude is so much more than a brief "thank you" or a nod towards God when things are going well. It's an all day, every day intense effort to remember and acknowledge all God is, all He has done, and all He has blessed me with. It's being able to say "thank you" for all things in life, not just the ones I appreciate at the moment.

But it's even more with than that. I am learning how God's grace cultivates gratitude. If we have a proper perspective of who God is and who we are in relation to Him, we can't help but be humbly grateful, and that gratitude pervades every aspect of our lives. We become all of those "more important" attributes: we are more patient and forbearing because we recognize how much patience the Lord shows to us; we are more easily forgiving, because we are grateful for the forgiveness that has been shown to us; we serve and give because we look to, in some small measure, actually express that thanks.

And on the other side, I am learning how many sins and struggles are borne from a heart of ingratitude. It leads to resentment, bitterness, anger, pride, selfishness, rebellion, jealousy, and so many more. It is listed among the other, seemingly more "treacherous" sins listed in 2 Timothy, and given as the root of the sins listed in Romans 1.

Early in my marriage, when circumstances weren't going so well, I developed a little phrase in my own heart, "When you sow seeds of discontentment, you will only reap the fruits of bitterness." Certainly not wanting to become a bitter person, I would repeat this little mantra over and over to myself: while I cleaned my less-than-desirable residence, while I trudged through and shoveled the snow that I hated so much, while my husband worked long hours at a job that wasn't paying enough to make ends meet, while we struggled to figure out if we had made a mistake by getting married, while our only car became less and less reliable, while I went to the grocery store with $20 in my pocket to see us through for the whole week. With the Lord's grace, it worked. We emerged on the other side, our marriage not only intact, but stronger. He provided exactly what we needed, both physically and spiritually, at every turn. The "grace" part of it all is that, while I certainly had moments of resentment and discontentment while enduring this season of life, I truly did have no lingering feelings of bitterness about the struggles. But what I am learning now is that it starts somewhere deeper. Those seeds of discontent about which I warned myself actually start with ingratitude. When we cease to be thankful for where the Lord has us at a particular moment, for what we do have, for the ways He has spared us, that's when the discontentment begins to grow. And that leads to a host of other problems.

So that's what I'm learning so far on this little journey. And I'm only on Chapter 3.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Mahwwiage...Is What Brings Us Toogethah Today

My kids always have loads of questions about marriage. Here is a sampling (followed by what's going on in Mom's head):

~How old do you have to be to get married? (Umm... well... depends who you ask)
~How old were you when you got married? (Yay- that's an easy one!)
~Then why does Dad say we have to wait 'til we're 30? ('Cause he's silly)
~What does engaged mean? (Another easy one, yay!)
~Can you have kids when you're engaged or do you have to wait 'til you're married? (Oh great, a question about sex, only they don't know yet that's what they're asking about. Let's wait a little while to open that can of worms. Just a "wait 'til you're married" is good enough for now.)
~Then how did Mary have Jesus when she was just engaged? (Even better, sex and theology all wrapped up in one question. They sure don't make it easy on poor Mom, do they?)
~Can you ever decide you don't want to be married to someone anymore? (Oh boy...)
~Will you and Dad ever get a divorce? (Nope, Lord willing)
~If God doesn't like divorce, why do people do it? (Good question. Too many answers.)
~What if 2 boys ask me at the same time to marry them? (Hahahaha... one of my personal faves, courtesy of Faithie)
~Will you pick what girl I'm going to marry? (Maybe, son, maybe)
~How will I know if she's really a Christian? (Now THAT'S a good question, son)

Anyway, the kids and I were having one of our many discussions on the topic last night on the way home from church. Faithie has figured out that you are an "adult" at 18 and can legally be married then, and I said, "Yes, but 18 is really too young to be married. Most people aren't mature enough to be married at that age." Of course, she asked me what I meant, and I answered, "Well, being married can be really hard work. You have to learn how to still love someone and live with them even if you're angry at them and don't like them very much sometimes." Her response? "I don't think it would be hard work to be married to Dad. He's such a kind man. And he loves God. And he's really fun." (Yes he is, sweet Faithie, yes he is. Remember that, and don't settle for less.)

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


I do not get the current hairstyles of today's male youth. We work with the teens at our church, so I see the variety of "styles" weekly at least. The bushy hair that has no shape and hasn't seen a styling product in who knows how long. Or the plastered-down-over-the-forehead-and-ears-like-a-helmet look. Or the long "bangs" swept to the side, which are possibly a worse contribution to society by Justin Bieber than his music. I understand buzz cuts, spiky crew cuts, even long hair that is washed and conditioned, but this completely unkempt, not long and not short, as bushy on the sides as it is on the top business is utter nonsense to me. I know I sound like a crotchety old woman, completely resistant to change and the fashion choices of the next generation. But that's not it at all. I just don't like it- I think it looks sloppy and lazy. I remember a kid in high school who would routinely not comb or style his hair, because "Why should I? I don't have to look at it." He was a cool and funny kid, and we all laughed with him about his choice to deviate from the norm in that little area. But his hair did look awful. My point? Almost every teen I know right now has hair that looks just like that kid's did, only it's supposedly their "style."

C-Ray was due for a haircut. His hair was looking very much like the "styles" I have just described. I had been telling him for several days that it was time, but just hadn't found the time to do it. I helped chaperone a field trip with Faithie's class yesterday. I noticed that, even in third grade, the boys were sporting this supposed "style." I have been trying to let my 3 older kids start making some small decisions about their appearances. I have hopes that if I don't dictate and over-regulate the things that really don't matter, like hairstyles, my kids won't be as likely to rebel later on in the areas that do. I'm not talking about compromising standards, just choosing the battles that will actually impact their futures, their testimonies before the Lord, their ability to become productive members of society. I had the thought that maybe C-Ray didn't want his usual short crew cut, that maybe he felt self-conscious that his hair was shorter than his peers. So I asked him, "Hey buddy, do you want me to cut your hair? Or do you want to keep it longer, like some of your friends have it?" I held my breath a little, waiting for his answer, and the thoughts raced through my mind, "Oh, how I hate those hairstyles. I hate how shaggy you look right now. I'm gonna have to do some fast talking with your father to let you keep it like this. Why did I just put that option out there?" I didn't have to hold my breath for long, as he answered, "No, I want a haircut. My head is always sweaty and my hair keeps sticking up funny." Smart kid. I know a whole bunch of teens that should take notes ;)

Monday, 28 February 2011

What If My Husband Was a Cheerleader?

A wide-spread "complaint" I've noticed among married women is that their husbands don't "just listen" to them, but instead feel like they have to "fix" things- offer solutions, point out what the woman should have done to avoid the problematic situation, etc. I too am guilty of this complaint, this way of thinking. I want to unload whatever problem I am having, or emotion I am feeling, onto my husband. Then, I want him to smile, tell me it's going to be okay, give me hug, and leave me alone. I don't want to hear how I could have fixed it more easily or avoided it all together. Yet, while I'm refusing his input and advice, I get frustrated when he disregards mine. I was mulling this over the other night while loading my dishwasher (I have my best conversations with myself while loading the dishwasher) and almost started giggling at the analogy that started rolling around in my mind.

I am anti-cheerleader. In fact, I despise the institution of cheerleading as a whole. (No offense to any of the very nice individuals out there who happen to be of a cheering persuasion. I will forgive your questionable life choices if you will forgive my unrelenting judgment of you ;) Why the intense hatred of cheerleading? Simply because it's pointless. And by pointless, I mean absurd. A troop of scantily clad girls, most of whom know very little about sports, jumping about and screaming in hopes of encouraging their assigned sports team. It's ludicrous. Those cheerleaders may, in some small measure, get the spectators enthused, but they really do absolutely nothing for the performance of the athletes. We've all been to those sporting events where our team is performing dismally, and those cheerleaders keep right on cheering, as if they are oblivious to the score and the fact that their team stinks. Those situations epitomize the foolishness of cheerleading. You want to laugh at them, feel sorry for them, and tell them to just be quiet. But you don't do any of those things, because they are simply doing what they are supposed to do, all they know how to do in the given situation. They don't possess the skills to make the situation itself any better. I have never seen an athlete trot over to the cheer squad to ask their opinion on improving his performance. The thought of it is laughable.

That's the coach's job. He is the one who has trained, challenged, and encouraged those athletes. His life is invested theirs, and their performance directly impacts his life and future, as his career is sure to be short-lived if his athletes perpetually fail. He's the one those athletes look to when they are stinking things up out on the field or court, because he's the one that has the ability to help them change the outcome. If the coach is a good one, he tells the athletes what they are doing wrong, how they could have avoided mistakes so they don't make them again, what to change to make themselves better. Imagine a coach who simply stood on the sidelines and smiled and cheered wildly when his team was down and defeated. What an awful, ineffective coach he would be! On the flip side, he's the one who is the most pleased and most positively impacted when the team performs well. A win for them is decidedly a win for him. If the coach is a good one, he gives them the encouragement and praise they deserve, and his words certainly have more impact than cheers from those who did nothing to help them gain the success they are enjoying. And if his players have an opinion or complaint, he is much more likely to listen to the ones who have respected and listened to him, and diligently heeded his instruction, than to those who thought they could do fine without him.

The thought that made me giggle was, "I'm asking my husband to be a cheerleader, when he's obviously wired to be a coach." Actually, the literal visual of my husband as a cheerleader is what made me giggle. It drove home the absurdity of what I ask him to do. He can't do it. He can't stand on the sideline and smile and cheer me on when I'm making mistakes. He can't say nothing when my own attitude, laziness, or emotions are keeping me from playing the game as effectively as I might be able to. He can't, not only because it's not the way he's designed, but because my decisions, mistakes, and unchecked emotions directly impact his life and future. If he's simply my cheerleader, it does nothing to improve me, my life, our relationship, or our relationship with our children. And that's the goal, right? For all of us. To be better, to avoid the stupid mistakes, to have stronger relationships and families. So why do I question, disregard, and even resent, the advice and opinions of the person who has the most invested in my life, the one for whom the stakes are highest if I fail? Why do I ask him to smile and say nothing when he could say something that would actually help me succeed? Why do I render him ineffective and restrict him to the sidelines, when his knowledge, wisdom, and life experiences could certainly help to enhance my own? Why do praise and recognition from him sometimes mean less to me than the approval of others? Why do I expect him to listen to my opinions when I haven't listened to his? Why did I write this and put it out on the Internet where my husband can read it? Now I might have to actually listen to myself...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

It's the Little Things

In keeping with this year's theme of "Simplicity," I've been trying to focus on simple things that I love and am thankful for. Last night, Mack came home from work, then left again to go help a friend clear the snow from his driveway. Only a few minutes after he left, my phone rang. It was Mack. "I just wanted to tell you that I love you." And that was it; no other purpose for the call. I can safely say that those calls and texts, those out of the blue, completely unsolicited and unwarranted, just-to-say-something-nice communications, are one of my absolute favorite things about being married to this husband of mine. Just knowing that he took a minute in the midst of his busyness to say "I was thinking about you and I still like you even after all this time that I've been stuck with you" can mean more than the grandest of gestures. What are some your favorite "simple things?"

Monday, 14 February 2011

Rewind: A Valentine's Day Story

I went to bed with a funny little cough last night. By 10:00 this morning, I felt pretty lousy. Cough, headache, body aches, the works. I took some meds and laid down for a bit, my mind defying my body to be sick. Finally somewhere around 2:00 this afternoon I called Mack to ask if we could celebrate Valentine's Day another day. As I dialed the phone, I remembered a Valentine's Day years ago. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, but as it is my only antecdotal Valentine's story, I think I'll share.

This guy, who I'm going to name Beattles because that's what I remember listening to when we would hang out, and I had been stuck in a cycle of teenage drama for most of our high school career. He liked me, I didn't like him, but finally decided maybe I did after awhile. Then we were on-again, off-again, he was hurt, I was confused, our peers had too much input into our "relationship," the whole nine yards. Anyway, so we had "gotten back together" again at some point in January. Valentine's Day happened to fall on a Wednesday that year, and we made plans to skip youth group at church (gasp) and go to dinner and a movie with his next door neighbor and my best friend, who were also dating. Much like today, I woke up that morning feeling pretty awful. I willed myself to go to school, because I knew there was no way that my parents would let me go out on a school night if I hadn't gone to school that day. So I went. And felt worse and worse as the day went on. I promptly fell asleep when I got home, and was awakened by Beattles calling to confirm our plans. I told him the bad news that I was sick and didn't think I could go. I could tell he was disappointed, and I asked him what he thought he would do that night. "Probably just go to church," he answered.

I wanted to ask him to stop by and see me on his way home, but I knew enough about guys, even at 16, that I didn't. I knew that would be perceived as needy, maybe even nagging, and would completely rob him of the opportunity to make the "romantic gesture" on his own initiative. So I said nothing, but waited for him to stop by. And the window in which he could have done so came and went. Later, he finally called. I asked him what he done. He had gone to dinner and a movie with the friends we had made plans with, and another girl friend of mine. Yes, that is correct. He went out on a date with another girl on Valentine's Day. I asked if they met up over by his house, almost a half hour away. No, he had come and picked up my friend, who lived about a mile from my house, and could have easily stopped by to see me. Now I was really rubbed the wrong way, but determined to play it cool and not be the jealous type, I said nothing. I asked if they had fun and we hung up the phone. He called the next day and broke up with me. And I knew it was for good. Our little cycle of teenage drama was broken once and for all. I literally looked at the phone in disbelief and laughed after he hung up.

And there it is: the only Valentine's Day on which I ever had a sort-of valentine besides Mack. And I'm so grateful. Grateful that we didn't go out on that date, that he didn't stop by in some romantic gesture, that I never got a card or chocolates or flowers on February 14th from anyone but Mack. That Mack was mine by the time that day came around again the next year, and for the 14 years since. And for as long as the Lord wills.