Since February 5, 2007, we have been together; that day was such a defining moment in my life.
That was seven years ago! We have been married five and a half years; and you’ve been around for the past 3 years and 2 months.
In this moment, as I step back and think about it, I am so not the same person I was seven years ago when Mommy and I went on our first date.
I may have been more optimistic back then, but I definitely was much less experienced in life- therefore, I was much more naïve, by default.
Not only have I changed, but so has Mommy. The two of us have become improved versions of ourselves throughout the character-building exercises of marriage and parenthood.
We are different people than we were on February 5, 2007. The challenging part is always making sure we continue to grow up together, not apart. That’s what real love is about; it doesn’t always come easy or automatic.
Real love has required me to be more sensitive to her needs and less sensitive to mine.
But I am confident that, had I taken that quiz seven, or even 5, or 3 years ago, I would have been a Raphael:
“Charming, charismatic, and very good with people… Unfortunately, you’re driven almost primarily by emotion, often to your detriment… It puts you on the defensive a lot.”
My goal these days is to be the calm-assertive leader; to not react so emotionally to emotional situations and to not take things personally… even if that’s how they were meant.
I am learning to be a stronger man. I am learning what empathy means.
If only I knew all this stuff back when I was only 26… man, I could have been so much better of a husband and dad from the beginning, had I only had this mindset since 2007.
But that’s not how it works. Instead, it’s that annoying learning curve of love.
What I am learning is that family is about growing together, which means learning the hard way together about how to become wiser, more improved, and more humbled versions of ourselves; and to earn a better understanding of what love really is:
Being more giving and sharing of myself and being less expecting of those things from others.
As I write this, you’ve just fallen asleep in your room next door, Mommy is buying groceries at Whole Foods, and I am letting John Mayer’s new album, Paradise Valley, serve as my background for this quiet (for now) Saturday afternoon.
I didn’t want to feel sad right now, but I kind of do.
Just like I don’t think John Mayer intended to make a sad-feeling album, but somehow in all of its mid-tempo mellowness and subtleties, it makes me feel… almost… alone.
And that’s crazy!
The last thing I ever have time to think these days is that I feel lonely.
By default, it seems nearly impossible for me to feel that way. How could I?
We don’t have a large family. It’s just the three of us.
But having you and Mommy to need me to make your lives function right, it keeps me feeling like part of a whole that would otherwise be incomplete.
Even if we never add a fourth member to our family, we’ll still always be family. It’s us. For life.
It’s just that I am so grateful for our family. I’m so grateful for how far we’ve come and grown together:
I think about how you were brought into this world in a time when Mommy and I had just moved away from our home in Nashville, only to have to move back about 8 months later because we struggled to find jobs the whole time, and lived off our savings until they were all gone.
I think about that financial burden and how deeply that psychologically affected me. To be too honest, I’m just now realizing as I’m writing this that I am actually still finishing up the healing process from that dark time in my life.
I think about how over the past two years we’ve dug ourselves out of $58,000 of debt, becoming debt-free a few months ago, the Dave Ramsey way, not by winning the lottery or even by getting raises, but thanks to living by a merciless budget which has included zero tolerance for eating meals out, cable TV or smart phones.
We’ve paid our dues and still are.
I think about the lyrics of the Steve Miller Band song, “Jet Airliner,” where it says, “You know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven.”
Our family has officially made it through to that crossroads, that ground zero, where we can build our lives together, upwards.
I feel it. It’s like I’m standing on top of a mountain right now looking down, seeing the difficult way we got here, then turning around to see that paradise valley on the other side. It’s like I’m finally taking some time to take long deep breaths now. (Both figuratively and literally.)
Life is always uncertain, but now, it’s somehow more certain than it’s ever been or felt.
And we have each other for it. We have our family. This is me expressing gratitude. Amen.
On Thanksgiving day, Mommy and I were pulling you around the neighborhood for an afternoon wagon ride, per your request.
We pulled around the corner to find two new grandpas getting out of their trucks, so proud to go inside and see their 8-day-old grandson. The two of them had traveled from out of town to see him.
“Oh, 8 days old? That’s the day he would be circumcised according to Jewish tradition. But I guess he was probably circumcised after just a couple of days while he was still in the hospital, right?”
It didn’t end there. I went on about your circumcision and probably how I don’t remember my own.
Then, finally, I shut up.
I reminded myself to just let those two new grandpas glory in their new grandson.
All I had to do was just smile and say some encouraging comment like, “Just imagine, in two years, you’ll be pulling your grandson around the neighborhood in a Radio Flyer wagon.”
Normally, I wouldn’t have had circumcision on my brain. But I had just finished a book called The Circumcision Decision. And evidently, my filter wasn’t working.
I’m referring to the John Mayer song, “My Stupid Mouth,” where he says, “How could I forget? Mama said, ‘Think before speaking.’ No filter in my head, oh what’s a boy to to do? I guess I’d better find one soon.”
Honestly, it had been a while since I had said something that stupid, making things so awkward that the only way to salvage the situation was to politely walk away and say, “Have a nice day.”
Son, I spent the majority of my childhood saying dumb things out loud, which I instantly regretted. I remember in 5th grade setting a goal of trying to make it one whole year without saying something awkward and embarrassing myself.
Didn’t make it a week.
So much of being successful and influential in life is being able to know what to say to people, but even more important is knowing when just to say nothing at all.
As you grow up, I will be here to help direct you on this. I want you to naturally say less stupid things than I did when I was a kid. I want you to learn from my mistakes.
It’s my wish for you that you won’t be able to relate to John Mayer’s song as much as I do.
It was five years ago today that my wife and I went on our first date. Even if she didn’t realize it at the time.
The picture you are seeing now was taken back in March 2007; about a month after our first date… already so much in love.
But how did it all begin?
Jill Tuttle was the only one of my friends who wanted to go with me to see John Mayer in concert two hours away in Huntsville, Alabama.
This was convenient for me because I had a huge crush on her for the past four months, since meeting her at a CMT taping of the show, Crossroads.
I had been deliberately nurturing an authentic friendship with her by initiating a Sunday night tradition of meeting at Starbucks to “catch up.” We had both talked about our mutual love for John Mayer’s music. I knew that her favorite song of his was “Back To You.”
So I made the most of this concert opportunity. This was my chance.
I knew she liked Lenny’s Subs and Twizzlers. So that’s the dinner I packed in a picnic basket for us; we dined in my Honda Element in the parking lot before the show.
When we got back to Nashville around midnight, I put the car in park, looked her right in the eyes, and told her straightforwardly:
“Conveniently, next week is Valentine’s Day. And I really, really like you. I would like to take you out for Valentine’s.”
And the rest is history. We married about a year and half later; then about two and half years after that, our son Jack was born.
That’s the story of us. You could say it all started with us both responding to an email about participating in the taping of a TV show for CMT, as audience members. Or that it all actually started at Starbucks. Or the John Mayer concert. Or even Valentine’s Day 2007.
But ultimately, it started with me taking the initiative to pursue her, carefully and patiently. I wanted to marry my best friend. So I did.
Now I look around the room and see pictures featuring the memories of the mutually shared past five years of our lives, along with a corner of our living room filled with the noisy plastic toys of a blonde haired, blue eyed little boy known to many as “Jack-Man.”
Sure, I believe God orchestrated it all. He caused our paths to cross.
Yet still, when I survey my life of Jill and Jack, I can’t help but think, “Man, I made this happen. I convinced this girl to fall in love with me five years ago. Now we not only have a life together but also a son whom we love like crazy.”
I forever changed Jill Tuttle’s life. I just couldn’t leave her alone. I pursued her and won over her heart.
Of course, it will be an ongoing process. I’m not finished falling in love with her and I never will be.
It’s amazing how much I don’t care about celebrities, yet I can tell you that Lady Gaga’s real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, that Russell Brand is 6′ 1″, that John Mayer is half Jewish, and that Beyonce is from Texas.
I don’t want to know how many girls Ashton Kutcher cheated on Demi Moore with or who Jennifer Aniston is currently dating.
Yet by proximity, I sort of do know these things because I am somehow constantly in the Thirty Mile Zone, exposed to the essence of all this useless knowledge about famous people.
We all know that school teachers are some of the hardest working people in America, yet their earned income doesn’t support this concept. Meanwhile, the sports stars, actors, and artists we worship get paid by the millions.
The irony here is that while our government is ultimately responsible for paying our school teachers so relatively little, we as a society decide that athletes, actors, and musicians are worth the money they earn when we pay to be entertained by them.
I would love to believe I honestly don’t get all caught up in celebrity hype. Yet I think back to a few years ago when I happened to be at Whole Foods while Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman were having lunch there.
Where was I? Along with others who were trying to inconspicuously take a picture of them with their cell phones. But the picture was “for my wife.” She’s a big Country music fan…
That event showed me that I was still willing to contribute to the habit of A) worshipping famous people and B) degrading them to spectacles, rather than just another married couple that happened to be eating lunch that day in an organic grocery store.
I’m not okay with worshipping rich and famous people.
Instead, I want to sincerely honor, both inwardly and outwardly, the people in the world who are great examples to us all. Not the people who have become millionaires by entertaining the world, but instead, the people who best demonstrate what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
As a dad, I want my son to see that it’s the non-famous people in our lives who are most important.
It’s the people who don’t simply entertain us, but the ones who also motivate us and challenge us to become better human beings. The ones who give us direction. The ones who love us unconditionally. The ones we can never truly impress or disappoint.
Sounds like right now I’m describing the way I feel about my son. I am, actually.