I hung the outfit on the bar in my closet on Tuesday morning. I knew then that it was a sort of silly thing to do and I also knew that in this crazy life, it was highly possible that plans would go awry. Still, I hung it there. And now it's Friday. And tonight is Date Night. I think we're actually going to go.
I nearly forgot that my reliable "babysitter" would be in Steubenville, but Michael and Kristin can make a last minute save. The under-13 crowd approves of my choice of supervisors. Cross my fingers and click my heels, I think Mike and I are going to go out tonight.
This whole date night concept is kind of new to us. I think my husband was on a bit of a quest last year. He's very smart guy. After 25 years of nursing babies and very attached toddlers, he made his move. Not just dates, but trips. Actual "vacations" away. Three of them. In the same year! People, we never had a honeymoon. These were the first three trips of our marriage. We went to Miami and to Baltimore and then, in September, we spent a week in California.
On these trips--particularly in California--I learned the language of date night. My only regret? That I didn't learn it sooner. Not day goes by even now that our trip to California doesn't come to mind. I think I actually said aloud to someone the other day that it was "life changing." And it was. It was a honeymoon, 25 years later. Now, we have mini honeymoons when we have a date night.
In California, we visited Napa, and toured wineries. We watched the sun set over the water in Monterey. We took a leisurely drive down the Pacific Coast Highway and we meadered back on 17 Mile Drive. We went to Mass in an old Mission church. We met friends for dinner in an amazing restaurant. We hung out backstage at a Dave Matthews concert (haven't blogged that one yet, have I?). Mostly though, we had hours and hours of uninterrupted falling in love--again.
Tonight's date night will take us to dinner and a Virginia winery we've grown to love since returning from Napa. We'll drive our own mountain roads and sip some local artistry. My guess is it's all going to feel very much like California did, deep down in our hearts. Sometimes, though, instead of sun setting over Monterey Bay, we sit at the lake in our neighborhood and watch the sun go down as we eat a carryout Chinese picnic.
Good enough. Really good, actually.
I spend so much time here talking about living an intentional life with our children. It occurs to me that Date Night is the best of intentionality at the heart of a marriage. Mabye it's not a night out. Maybe it's getting up a half hour earlier so that you can [try to] be up before the baby and have breakfast together out on the front steps. Maybe it's hiring a sitter or asking the empty-nester next door to just come for an hour after everyone's asleep so that you can share a dessert and a cup of chai on the patio of a local coffee shop. Slip out. Get away (even if it's just to the playhouse in the backyard).
Fall in love again.
Last year was pretty huge. I was so tired, so completely spent at this year's beginning that I noticed year-in-review posts on other blogs, and just pulled the quilt up tighter around my ears and closed my eyes. I didn't have the energy--physical or spiritual--to revisit it all, even virtually. It was just.so.much.
I went through that year of many, many transitions kicking and screaming. Turns out I'm not a big fan of change. The reality is that I liked the baby years, loved them, really and never once wished them away. And yet, in the big giant year of transition, they were indeed being swept beyond my reach. I left my children for the first time. And then for the second. Someone turned four and there was no one younger than her around the table at dinner. But there was someone new at the table. And she came to be one of us. I gained a new role. The transition was absolutely unmistakeable.
Our culture is so youth oriented. For the most part it seems, no one really searches out ways to be older. We celebrate 21 in a big way. We mark midlife with black-themed birthday cards and bad jokes about being over the hill. I think I bought into that mentality a bit. And I think I know a big reason I was such easy prey.
I was so dang tired. The truth is that this wholehearted, all-in, very attached parenting style had depleted me to the equivalent of soil dust. Nothing rich was growing there. If this was what the mid-forties felt like, I could not imagine sixty.
But I have a four-year-old. And my most fervent prayer is to grow old healthy, and holy, and helpful. I want to be there for her. I want to see how the story unfolds. I want to get out of bed in the morning without my knees cracking so loudly it wakes my husband.
In the blur that was the new year, friends were choosing words for the year--just single words upon which to focus, meditate, seek wisdom. A word to live for the whole year. I couldn't wrap my brain around one.
And then I could. Aimee said her word was renew. Renew.
That's it. That's the word. It's the word that says that this stage in life is not the beginning of the end. It's the beginning, instead, of something better, stronger, wiser, and yes--older. But older in the richest way. That's certainly being proven true in marriage. Did you know that the sweetest wine is grown from the oldest vineyards? Grapes grow best when the farmer works in harmony in with the earth, when he embraces the whole and considers that plant and the land around it as they were endowed by the Creator, with an eye towards preserving the quality for a long time. The goal of biodynamic farming is to be sustainable. When you grow grapes, you draw something from the soil and you have to replenish that.
When we learned about biodynamic vineyards, one point that came home to me is that growing practices greatly influence how long the vineyards will continue to bear fruit. The vines where the practice is focused upon sustainable growth--where the big picture is considered and every element of farming is oriented towards ensuring health of the vines down deep and over time--are the vines that bear the sweetest fruit. At first, the explanation of biodynamic farming sounds a bit hokie. But then, you can literally taste and see that the fruit borne of the wisdom of old is of a superior quality.
This image works so well for me. The Bible is rich with imagery of vineyards. Clearly, God wants us to consider how to grow in a sustainable way in order to renew the face of the earth. I've never been more certain of that than I was this morning. I had written the above over the course of the last few weeks. I clicked over to visit Aimee in order to link to her in my post. When I did, I learned she's writing today about sustainable homeschooling. My jaw dropped and I smiled widely at God's thunk over my head. If ever I asked for a sign that I was on the right track, I got a clear answer at 7:00 AM on Tuesday January 29th while visiting Aimee's blog. It's a post that just might easily have catapulted to my favorite home education post ever this morning. There is wisdom there, my friends. Rich, rich wisdom. Get this: middle aged wisdom. Yep. There is wisdom and it's invaluable.
I look around at the friends with whom I've had babies and I am blessed to know that they've grown wise. How amazing! We all learned something during those hazy, intense, sleep-deprived years.
So, now I embrace renewal. I look to tend the vineyard of my soul, to be sure, but I am not going to neglect the rest of me any more. The big picture of renewal is one that encompasses physical health, spirtual growth, creative energy and enthusiasm, and an invigorated sense of hope and optimism for the future. I look to my home, to my homeschooling, to the relationships within these walls and to the people I love beyond these walls. Renewal. All of it is waiting to be made new again.
What a different perspective than that of a withering towards an inevitable end. We can renew and renew and renew again, until our dying breath. God is generous that way.
I've talked a bit about stillness. About allowing Him to come in the silence.
Be still and know that I am God.
The last two weeks at Mass, an old familiar hymn has settled on my soul in a new way. I've listened to You Are Mine and heard the refrain of stillness. I will come to you in the silence. But I've also heard the rest. I heard the echoes of Isaiah 43:1
But now, thus says the LORD,
who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name: you are mine.
There is nothing to fear. I am redeemed.
And the promise of John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid
Transitions can be scary. Aging can be scary. Renewal, though? The sustainable model of growth that keeps us renewing until we reach heaven? That's peace.
Last year, was a hard year. It was exhausting. It was a compost year, I think. A year of creating very fertile ground for renewal.
As I was going into Mass Sunday morning, I saw a young mom struggling with a preschooler, a toddler, and a bulky, heavy infant seat. I helped her with the door and pushed away a now familiar pang. I know it is a struggle; that stage of parenting is super hard. But I liked it. No, I really, really loved it. Revelled in it. I miss it.
Last September, Mike and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to northern California. It was Mike's idea--completely, totally, and 100% Mike's idea. He's been many times for business and he was certain I'd love it there. I was certain that I have a fear of airplanes and earthquakes and being very far from my children. I was certain that Sarah Annie was not going to be thrilled about weaning (despite the fact that she was absolutely old enough). I was certain it was imprudent to plan any sort of trip out of town during the first week of the school year. He was gently insistent.
I was nervous, too. We'd never been away from our children for a whole week. Come to think of it, we'd never really spent a week together without him working since 1996. And that was the one vacation we'd taken in all our married life. What if we got bored with each other? I knew that this season--the one begun when Michael's engagement coincided with the obvious fact that our baby days are over--was not the season I'd always lived in my dreams. That was the season just ending. What if I hated this season?
He wanted to start in Napa, in wine country. I didn't drink wine. What in the world was he thinking? I am the child who saw alcoholism up close and personal. Wine sets off buzzers and beepers and PTSD. Wine? Seriously? He was thinking that I love agriculture, that I throw myself headlong into the land and I want to see it and smell it and touch it and taste it and... well, frankly winemaking is the total package. I was dubious.
But I said yes. One morning, under a deadline, I emailed him this column to proofread. And at the very end, I wrote "Let's go to San Francisco. I trust you."
So we did.
I know he worried as we drove away from the San Francisco airport. I tried to look cheerful, but my heart sunk. It was pretty ugly. But then, as we drew near to Sausalito,the cloud lifted and my soul soared. From that moment on, the trip was absolutely everything he'd hoped and so much more than I imagined.
First, the whole wine thing was a huge success. I loved Napa valley. Just absolutely loved it. And, now, I kind of like wine, too. It's a hobby we share. From there, the trip just kept surprising me with joy.
One night, in Monterey, after I'd skipped down Cannery Row (yes, really, skipped), and flitted through a Ghirardelli shop, and inhaled the beach at sunset (the first time I'd ever seen the sun set over the water), we had dinner outdoors. Actually, we ate outdoors almost every night, but on this night, I remember revelling in the idea that no matter how empty our house became, the "us"--Mike and me together--would be so full. And I think I was a little surprised.
So, last Sunday at Mass, when that familiar wave of want washed over me, I remembered sharing wine and conversation on the water in Monterey. I remembered that we did this, but I had a growing sense that there is true renewal in this season of life. The end of childbearing isn't the end; it's the beginning of something even deeper.
I nearly cried when Father began his homily by saying that the wine in the wedding at Cana is a symbol of joy and the wedding is analagous to marriage itself. He went on to explain that everyone expects the good wine at the beginning and so, too, everyone focuses on the giddy joy of the newly married years. For us, those were good years. And "giddy" is an excellent word for them. We worked super hard. We also giggled. A lot.
Father went on to say that the bridal couple doesn't even notice as the joy begins to run out. It's the Blessed Mother who watches over the pair and it's she who points to the solution to the problem of lack. Do whatever he tells you. And then, everyone is surprised by the abundant excellent wine later in the wedding celebration. Later in marriage. There is this growing sense of forever joy. Forever.
Fine, miraculous, consecrated, holy. Joy.
We can drink deep and give thanks.
Twenty-five years ago today, a new life began. It grew from the love of a brand-new marriage. Nine months later, on September 29, 1988, a son was born. My firstborn. The baby who made me Mama, who made us family.
Today, that boy--now grown to a man--will take a wife. In many ways, he's grown up here in this space and in the pages of books and newspapers. We've stumbled along together, he and I, learning as we go, and sharing those lessons with all of you.
I'm at a loss for words. I have been all month.
I tend to take a while to process big things and this is a very big thing. We head to church this morning to meet both the same priest who baptized Michael and our dear pastor, who will concelebrate the marriage. My heart is full--very, very full. I'm eager to encircle Kristin, to call her daughter-in-love, and to fully celebrate this new beginning. But as I said, I'm at a loss for words. So, I beg your prayers for us this weekend and for Michael and Kristin as they begin their new life together. And I leave you with Mike's words from last night, when he welcomed family and friends after the rehearsal.
video credit: Mary Beth Foss, with help from Kristin's sister, Cherise.