Wednesday, December 31, 2003

More tomorrow  

I have guests at my house today, and guests trump blogging. They'll be on a plane back to Texas tomorrow, though, so please check back tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Unemployment  

I was laid off from my job with Dell Computer Corp. nearly two years ago. It really hurt. Every day that I didn't have a job I felt more like a failure as a husband and as a man, and I didn't feel any better until I finally started working again three-and-a-half months later. If not for Mrs. Happy's constant encouragement and expressions of love and utter faith in me throughout that time, I don't know how I would have coped at all. Now it's my turn to encourage.

She called me today to let me know she was one of the first casualties in a round of layoffs where she works. Her not having a job complicates things for us. It delays our saving for a house, planning for a child, and preparing for the future. It doesn't kill us, though, or even put us in financial danger. We have made it a point to live a lifestyle that we can maintain on my salary alone.

As I'm writing this, she hasn't come home yet. She's still cleaning out her stuff, preparing her space for whatever person with seniority takes over her function. We haven't had a real chance to talk about how she feels, so at this point I can only guess. I think it's safe to say she's upset. However, her reaction to unemployment will be a little different from mine. She will undoubtedly feel bad that we have to delay a few major life decisions, but the monetary concerns will not devastate her. As I said, we can survive on my salary alone. One big difference between her layoff and mine, though, is that I didn't particularly like my job, while she absolutely loves hers.

When I worked at Dell, I wrote technical manuals explaining how to install and operate server management software. Believe it or not, that gets boring after a while. A while more, and it comes to be tedious. Eventually, one grows to despise it, which I certainly did. In a way, my being laid off actually improved my work situation because it forced me to find a better, more palatable job. For Mrs. Happy, on the other hand, the job she just lost was almost her dream job. She has two passions, and her job fused both of them.

Her first passion is art. She has always loved to express herself through acts of creativity, and encouraged others to do the same. She has inspired me to do so on more that one occasion (you may not appreciate the quality of my work, but I think the sincerity transcends the artistic value). Her second passion is people, particularly people no one wants to deal with, people who need more attention than anyone else. She feels a strong desire to help them, to make them feel like someone cares, to make them emotionally and spiritually strong enough to heal themselves. In her job, she uses art to enable people express the (sometimes hurricane-force) turbulence of their inner selves. She helps people make sense of their own thoughts and better understand their own needs.

She helps the people I believe Jesus would be drawn to, and they flock to her in much the same way they would to Him. She offers them grace and non-judgment, and they respond with love and admiration. As we spoke on the phone earlier, she read me a letter written from one of the people under her care addressed to the top administrator at the institution where she works. The letter expressed overtly hostile feelings and questioned the condition and destination of any soul that would prevent such an obviously remarkable young woman from helping people the way she does. It was a testament to the effect she has on people, though that particular client probably has some work left to do on his anger management issues.

My point is that while my layoff shook my confidence and made me feel like a failure, her layoff actually steals from her an enormous source of personal fulfillment. Not that she will never have another job like it—there is probably an even better job somewhere waiting for her—and not that her job is her only source of fulfillment. But the loss is significant, and I only hope that in the coming months I can be as much an encouragement to her as she was to me.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Soup and movies  

I got to do two things this past weekend that I've been wanting to do for a long time.

First, I ordered soup from the real-life Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame (click on the image to see full-size photos). I have never really understood the nickname. Even on the show, he did not advocate the rise of one race or the destruction of another. He did not rebuild a country out of the ashes only to create a war machine bent on world domination. He was just stern, gruff, and strict to the point of intolerance. I would have called him the Soup Stickler or Tyrant or Despot or something, but maybe that doesn't have the same ring. Anyway, the character is based on a real guy named Al Yeganeh, and he refers to himself as The Soup Man and scoffs at his Seinfeldian nickname. His place is called Al's Soup Kitchen International and it's on 55th St. and 8th Ave. in Manhattan. Al himself is pretty gruff and unsmiling, but I didn't see him refuse soup to anyone. The restaurant itself differs from the place as portrayed on Seinfeld in that no customers are allowed inside, since the entire inside is pretty much occupied by the kitchen. You order from the sidewalk (fresh, hot soup or refrigerated, reheatable soup) and find your own place to eat. The rules for ordering as portrayed on TV were no exaggeration. This sign appeared in no fewer than five languages at the counter:

FOR THE MOST EFFICIENT AND FASTEST SERVICE
THE LINE MUST BE KEPT MOVING.

The quality of the soup was also no exaggeration. I ordered the chicken and vegetable soup, and it was without a doubt the best soup I have ever eaten, even if I couldn't identify every ingredient (there were some big, bulbous, yellow things floating around that I have never seen in my life). All in all, a good experience. And, having also eaten at the diner that provides the exterior shot of Seinfeld's coffee shop last year, I have now had my fill of Seinfeld experiences.

Second, I finally took my wife to see The Return of the King, a satisfying end to perhaps the best movie trilogy ever. Mrs. Happy generally eschews any form of entertainment that suggests science fiction, fantasy, or superhero comics. I've had to find others to accompany me to T3, X-Men, the last two Matrix movies, and Underworld, and I had to see Freddy vs. Jason all by myself. But she saw the first two Lord of the Rings films with me, and though she has protested every day since ROTK opened, she finally agreed to see it. I loved it, she enjoyed it, and as long as she doesn't hold it over my head for more than a few days, we'll consider it a successful outing. Now I'll probably have to take her to see Mona Lisa Smile to make up for it, but marriage often involves give-and-take, and I'm happy to do it. I've discovered a few gems by seeing movies I had no interest in (Gothika and He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not, to name a couple), and she's had her horizons expanded by a couple of movies I dragged her to (she enjoyed both Spider-Man and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys). Marriage and movies don't always mesh, but it's a beautiful thing when they do.


Check out the Where We're From page for a new poem from Tina. Also take a look at her blog. Keep those poems coming!

Friday, December 26, 2003

Update  

My weekend is full. I will resume regular blogging on Monday.

It's nice having a break, but it feels somehow wrong to go this long without writing. Oh, well. God trumps family trumps country trumps blogging, I guess. More on Monday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Takin' a break  

Christmas is going to be wonderful. I've gotten some great gifts for my wife. My mother and her husband are coming for a short visit. We'll all celebrate Jesus' birth together. It will be great. Right now, though, it just sucks. I have never encountered so many incompetent, selfish, and flagrantly rude people in one day than I have today (and remember, I live in New York). I have lots to do to prepare for Christmas day, and no time to do it. I'm stressed out and doing my best not to spill my composure all over the next inconsiderate person unfortunate enough to cross my path.

Anyway, I'm home at the moment and don't plan on going back out, so the world is safe for now. My preparations are preventing me from spending much time blogging today, and I hereby give notice that I will probably not blog at all tomorrow or Christmas day, and maybe not for the rest of the week. We'll just have to see how things go. But for now, I offer up the following for your entertainment:

That's all for now. I'll resume posting some time after Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Contemplating fatherhood  

It happens in every marriage. Sooner or later, a couple discusses having children. Mrs. Happy and I do so fairly regularly, sometimes in passing and sometimes in earnest. Right now, a variety of loose-ended issues prevents us from making a firm decision one way or the other. I get frustrated about that because, of course, on this issue there is no middle ground, no fence to straddle. To put off deciding means to decide not to have children for the time being, and time doesn't stand still while we work out the details. I've received this advice more times than I can count: "Don't wait to have children until you're ready. You'll never be ready. You just have to do it." That may very well be true.

This past year, I think, marked the first time that I've been emotionally ready to expand our Happy Family. Before now, the thought of that much responsibility has terrified me. Now I'm not afraid of the responsibility; in some ways I even crave it. What concerns me now is the effect a child will have on my ability to function as a human being.

Sometimes (it happened today, in fact) I look at my wife and she overwhelms me with her humanity, her person-ness. Sometimes she makes me realize that she exists as an individual as much as I do, a revelation that always brings me to my knees in awe of the wonder of her being. I think times like those are the closest I ever come to seeing another person the way God sees them. God, however, is omnipotent and capable of functioning while fully comprehending the power of His creation's existence. In that state I, on the other hand, tend to just smile until it hurts, cry uncontrollably, and babble on about beauty and love.

So if my wife affects me that strongly as often as two or three times a week, I can't imagine how I will function in the presence of a little girl who looks like the woman I love more than life, frantically playing, eagerly seeking out new experiences, and protecting any helpless creature she encounters…or a little boy who asks probing questions and follows his imagination wherever it takes him without being burdened by preconceived notions of reality (a boy, by the way, who has also exchanged all the morose, odd-bird tendencies he inherited from his father with the corresponding good qualities he learned from his mother). Living with a child whose every word reveals an absolute proof of humanity, whose every thought broadcasts a world of meaning on an utterly sincere face, who calls me "Daddy" at every opportunity? I'm afraid that would put me in a perpetual state of disarray and complete uselessness.

I recently voiced these concerns to a friend of mine who has a three-year-old son. He waved his hand dismissively and said, "Meh. You get over that."

On a slightly different note, I received an e-mail today from Adam, a friend of mine who has been a father for exactly one month. He shared some thoughts on fatherhood:

Around 5 o'clock Sunday morning, as I held my son so Sarah could get some sleep before getting up for church, I began to realize Austin is smarter than I think. Here are twelve thoughts I am convinced have gone through the mind of my little four-week old son:

  1. "If I wait a few more minutes, Dad will almost be asleep. Then I'll start crying…"
  2. "Dad, if you were a real man, you wouldn't need sleep."
  3. "Don't call me beautiful! Beautiful is for girls! the word is handsome, people!"
  4. "They almost have the new diaper on…almost…hold it…hold it…there's the first strap…Now! Go! Pee again!"
  5. "Dad's right…one of life's most underrated pleasures really is a good poop!"
  6. "Mommy's more patient than Daddy is when I scream in the middle of the night."
  7. "Nothing satisfies like a cold wet one…pacifier, that is."
  8. "Daddy likes to play catch with my pacifier."
  9. "My bed just isn't as comfortable as Mom or Dad's chest."
  10. "I'm not sure what that little thing down there is for, but I know I can squirt Dad in the face with it. Hey, look! I can make cool pictures on the wall, too!
  11. "I can't wait until I can see far enough to watch T.V. This game called football that Daddy likes to watch sounds fascinating!"
  12. "HOOK 'EM HORNS! Hey, Aggies and Sooners, I left some presents for you…they're in the diaper can!"

Some day I'll be the one holding a baby in the wee hours so my wife can sleep. Some day I'll be the one attributing comic thoughts to an infant I helped conceive. Some day, I pray, I'll have to rename this blog The Happy Husband and Father.

But not today.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Marriage links for the week  

The WorldMag blog offers up an explanation of how marriage fosters freedom, contrary to popular sentiment, and how the very word free is linguistically bound to love and devotion. "Marriage is an act of freedom that allows people to gain the roots to be free, devoted to people and principle and not blown around by ideological winds. (A leaf is not free.)"

A happy marriage is an ongoing process. If you stop trying, you stop growing. And when you stop growing, you start decaying.

Sometimes it's good for a couple to share a common profession, but there are drawbacks as well.


I'm adding a new link to my list of Personal Blogs this week: ireneQ. She is a young Malaysian blogger who chronicles her struggles with being a single Christian in a hostile secular world. Her thoughts resonate with me because I remember being where she was (young, single, and Christian, I mean—not female or Malysian), battling self-destructive desires and wondering what, if anything, is in store for me in the way of marriage. Her writing is excellent and she has superb taste in reading material (you'll notice The Happy Husband in her link list). Check out her blog.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Reminiscence  

This blog's first entry is dated Wednesday, August 20, 2003. I didn't even tell anyone about it for a month, just to make sure I could keep up the pace of daily posts. It's gone well, though. This week I passed the century mark for number of posts, and today I'm just tired. Since I don't have the energy to write something clever and insightful right now, I thought I'd offer some links to posts from the first six weeks for those of you who have only recently discovered The Happy Husband. Please forgive me if this is self-indulgent, but these are some of my favorites:

I wrote all of these posts before I added the comments feature, so feel free to leave your thoughts on any/all of them.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

A return to true manhood  

In the past, I have had conversations/debates with a couple of my more liberal friends about the importance and/or existence of masculinity and femininity. "All people are human beings," they said, "regardless of the genitalia they might develop through a chance meeting of chromosomes. There is no reason to treat people of either sex differently or to shut them out of any relationship role they may desire." My enlightened friends held the opinion that only the ability to bear children differentiates women from men and that everyone should therefore be treated equally (a word that to them means identically).

Since neither of my friends (both of them male, by the way) grew up in a cave, I can't imagine how they formed that opinion. I tried countering with logical arguments and observations about obvious differences. I tried to convince them that a recognition of differences between the sexes does not equal chauvinism. I tried to explain how much better life is when women embrace womanhood and men embrace manhood. Despite my best efforts, they remained steadfastly dedicated to a sort of idealized androgyny. I guess when a friend wholeheartedly believes in a chartreuse sky, there's not much you can say beyond pointing out the blue.

I'm afraid that one reason so many marriages fail today is that men have not been taught what it means to be a man, that in fact they have been taught that manhood is irrelevant. I had a class in college in which the professor asked me, as the only vocal conservative Christian in the class of 80 students, to list some words describing a husband's role in a marriage. I immediately said "provider, protector, and leader." (After more than five years of marriage, I now know that my response was simplistic, but I still stand by its accuracy.) The professor and most of the young men in the class bristled at my comment, and countered with arguments about how I was setting men above women, how women can take care of themselves and don't need a man to rescue them from the world, and blah blah blah blah blah, completely (maybe even willfully) misunderstanding my point.

I believe God made man and woman to complement each other, to complete each other, to enable each other for greater things than either could achieve alone:

The man said [of the woman],
  "This is now bone of my bones,
  And flesh of my flesh;
  She shall be called Woman,
  Because she was taken out of Man."

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
—Genesis 2:23, 24

Furthermore, the words of King David to his son Solomon indicate that manhood carries a certain responsibility:

As David's time to die drew near, he charged Solomon his son, saying, "I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn."
—I Kings 2:1–3

I'm bringing this up because I recently read an excellent article from The Claremont Review of Books about how parents, schools, and society in general is failing in its duty—and, in many ways, working actively against its duty—to grow boys into men. Some key quotes:

In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of "cute guys" around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them…. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of "acting like men," or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.

The demanding regime of physical and moral instruction that used to turn boys into men and the larger cultural forces that supported that instruction have been systematically dismantled by a culture that ostensibly enables all individuals but in reality disables men.

Half of American boys growing up do not live with their natural fathers. …Divorce, whether in reality or in the acrimonious rhetoric of the mother, impresses upon the boy an image of the father, and therefore of all men, as being irresponsible, deceitful, immature, and often hateful or abusive towards women.

I personally have gone through periods of wimpiness and barbarism both, but my family (even after my parents' divorce), my female friends, and the Texas school system (especially the male coaches) all taught me to be a man through instruction, expectations, and discipline. I think it's time that we, as a society, go back to that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

First kiss—her view  

In Curt's post yesterday, he said that our first kiss "may have been the most unromantic first kiss for a couple in the history of relationships." In the comments section of that same post, Rey pondered the idea that "although you placed that kiss as completely unromantic, i wonder if your wife would place it in quite a different category…now and then…." So Curt and I agreed it would be proper to share my perspective on the matter.

Did I think his prelude was ridiculously lame? No doubt. Was the kiss itself the most romantic, heartfelt show of affection I'd ever experienced? Absolutely!

You see, I started to fall for my happy best friend long before he had an iota of a clue, but we'd been insisting on our "just friends" status so adamantly for so long that I didn't want to appear a fool—little did I know that he had that department covered. I had found myself watching his lips move for the past six months or so, wondering, longing, waiting, then stopping myself, convinced that a kiss was never going to happen, nor should it.

Then came that December night that would change the dynamic of our relationship forever. When he mentioned mistletoe (and the evident lack thereof), I was struck by a feeling of exhilaration and whatever emotion goes with the phrase, "Oh, brother." Despite the latter feeling, I was thankful for the invitation to capitalize on an opportunity I'd been coveting for months. Oh, and just to even the playing field of utter lameness, I paused to spit out my gum. I'll be the first to admit that this was not the way I had envisioned the beginning of the first kiss with the man I would some day marry, but when he says it was the sweetest, purest, most powerful and clueless kiss ever, I must agree. Furthermore, this simple act became the catalyst for his and my separate (and eventually joint) realizations that we were undeniably destined to spend the rest of our lives together as husband and wife.

And indeed it still does make me tingle every time I think about it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

First kiss  

I met my wife in May of 1994. We spent a great deal of time together and over the next couple of years grew to be best friends. We came to know each other and love each other in a way I had never known or even conceived. I say that in my defense, because as I look back on those years I cringe at the utter and complete level of absolute cluelessness I displayed.

After about a year of spending time together, sharing our thoughts and pasts, helping each other out in difficult situations, and actively pursuing each others' happiness, I began to feel a strong affection for the Happy Best Friend. I hugged her at every opportunity. Sometimes I stroked her hair. Sometimes I let her lean against me as we sat on my couch watching a rented movie. None of this, in my mind, constituted romance. That may have been because lust had not yet entered into it, and I had no conception of romance without lust.

Anyway, some time in 1996 I developed a strong desire to kiss her. I can say in all honesty that the desire grew out of a pure, overpowering, non-lustful affection for her. I realized at the time that a kiss is a powerful show of affection that could have all sorts of implications I didn't intend. I knew that a kiss out of the blue would make her think I had romantic feelings for her, which I absolutely didn't. I needed an excuse to kiss her so that we could share that show of affection once and have it intensify our friendship rather than unravel it.

Valentine's Day and both our birthdays came and went without a kiss. As Christmas drew near, I came up with a perfect excuse. When she visited me at my apartment to exchange gifts, we had the following conversation:

ME: You know, uh, I've always wanted to kiss someone under the mistletoe* but I never have. I was wondering if you'd like to do that.

HER: Oh. Okay. Where's your mistletoe?

ME: Um, I don't have any. ::mentally kicks self for not thinking to actually get some mistletoe:: We can pretend.

HER: All right. Let me go spit out my gum.

She went to the kitchen, spit out the gum she was chewing, returned, and let me kiss her under the imaginary mistletoe. It may have been the most unromantic first kiss for a couple in the history of relationships, but it also may have been the sweetest, purest, most powerful and clueless kiss ever. Previous kisses that I had experienced began at the instant lips touched and ended as soon as contact was broken. This kiss, however, began early in the year, built up momentum over a period of months, and still affects us both today.


I wrote recently about how I used to grasp for excuses to spend time with the Happy Best Friend. I received some criticism for having employed deceit and game-playing rather than being up front about my feelings. Let me just make it clear now that neither deceit nor denial have ever played any role in my relationship with my wife. For several years, cluelessness and a profound lack of understanding on my part played a dominant role, but I eventually (and thankfully) overcame them.

*I don't know if the mistletoe tradition exists in other countries. A mistletoe is a semi-parasitic green plant with thick leaves, small yellowish flowers, and white berries. Around Christmastime, you cut a piece of mistletoe off of a tree and hang it somewhere, usually above a doorway. When you catch someone standing under the mistletoe, you have the right to kiss them.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Playing with food  

My wife has been a playful artistic type all her life. Her mother still has some of her childhood artwork, and even before it began showing signs of real talent it displayed an exuberant creativity.

Back in high school, when she reached an age at which she went to restaurants with friends and found herself responsible for leaving a gratuity, she decided to liven the tip up a bit. She would arrange coins, uniquely folded bills, and leftover bits of food into some semblance of a face and leave it for the waiter. Her hope was to brighten someone's day a little bit. She has continued doing that over the years, though now she just uses the leftover food bits since I buy her meals with a credit card.

I've seen all sorts of reactions from waiters and busboys. Most don't even notice the adorable food face and just dump everything into a tub. Some do notice and don't know how to react, so they ignore it and pretend that nothing is upsetting the delicate balance of their waiterly routine. One recently saw the food face, giggled with delight, then covered her mouth with both hands and walked away quickly. It's always interesting to see how people react, but the greatest reward is when it obviously makes someone happy, as when one waitress was so enchanted that she called several others over to the table to see (we witnessed this through the window after we had walked out of the restaurant).

I recently decided to begin documenting the faces she makes. Whenever we go out to eat, we take along the digital camera and record her creations for posterity. So far we only have two, but maybe some day we'll have enough to compile into book form. Click on the images below to see full-size pictures.

I've mentioned this before and I'll probably mention it again, but my wife is so cool.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Quotes  

I just got an e-mail from my friend Geoff with some quotable quotes about marriage. They're good enough to share:

A successful marriage is not a gift; it is an achievement.
      —Ann Landers, 1918 - 2002

I would say that the surest measure of a man's or a woman's maturity is the harmony, style, joy, and dignity he creates in his marriage, and the pleasure and inspiration he provides for his spouse.
      —Benjamin McLane Spock, 1903 - 1998

Marriage is not just spiritual communion and passionate embraces; marriage is also three meals a day, sharing the workload and remembering to carry out the trash.
      —Dr Joyce Brothers

Marriage and the up-bringing of children in the home require as well-trained a mind and as well-disciplined a character as any other occupation that might be considered a career.
      —Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884 - 1962

Story writers say that love is concerned only with young people, and the excitement and glamour of romance end at the altar. How blind they are. The best romance is inside marriage; the finest love stories come after the wedding, not before.
      —Irving Stone

A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.
      —Mignon McLaughlin

 

Marriage links for the week  

Speaking of office Christmas parties (see Thursday's post), women in Scotland apparently see them as opportunities for bad behavior. I'm not Scottish, but I'll repeat what I said: I'm glad I left when I did.

Blogger Mark (of Minute Particulars) takes issues with the biggest blogger on the Web (Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, if you didn't know) on the subject of sexual purity before marriage.

The U.S. military recognizes the challenges faced by married couples and is offering to help with marriage classes offered through the chaplain's office.

Happily married for 60 years, 70 years, 73 years.

A married couple, both psychologists and marriage specialists, turn their academic eyes in on their own marriage on their 50th anniversary.

A newly married man offers advice to men who haven't yet grown accustomed to their wedding band.


Wednesday's post was posted (with my permission) at The Bible Archive.

Check out the where we're from page for Jeff's poem. If you write your own, send it to me and I'll make you famous.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Christmas theatrics  

Real life trumps blogging today. I will say, though, that it's important for married couples to do things together that they both enjoy. Mrs. Happy and I are involved in a project at church called Meet Me at the Manger, a children's musical production for Christmas. I get to play the Scrooge character Mr. Herod, the owner of Herod's department store, who refuses to let the children set up their living nativity scene and sing for his customers. Mrs. Happy plays Miss Ellie, the operator of a local mission. She gets to sing a soulful song, I get to have a change of heart, and a good time is had by all. We had our first rehearsal earlier this evening. The rehearsal taught us that when we start having kids, we should definitely stop before we have twenty.

If you're on Long Island on Dec. 21 around 6:00 p.m., come check it out.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Office party  

A recent study found that situations and attitudes in the workplace can have an adverse effect on marriage. Among the findings (some of these statistics are from other studies reported in the same article):

The article talks about the dangers involved in spending long hours at work with coworkers of the opposite sex. "What starts out as a coworker relationship develops into a friendship, then a deep friendship, and then into a [romantic] relationship. In my wife's case, work led to business lunches. Business lunches led to 'nonbusiness' lunches and then to 'happy hours.' And the whole thing led to divorce," said one man whose wife divorced him after she had an affair with a coworker.

I read this article several weeks ago. It doesn't apply to me much because I have contact with only one woman at work, and all our contact is over e-mail. We've never even met face to face. Plus, I apparently have some sort of quality that makes women not want to flirt with me (that quality has been described by various people as an air of unapproachability, arrogant condescension, and snide indifference). That's a good thing now, but a source of immense frustration during my single days.

Anyway, I went to my company Christmas party last night and I felt like printing up a copy of the aforementioned article and handing it to whoever organized things. The company rented out a very nice building, complete with catered appetizers and dinner as well as a live band, an expansive dance floor, comfortable couches, and an open bar. Oh, and employees were not allowed to bring guests, including spouses.

I stayed for only two hours, but by the time I left I was already beginning to question the wisdom of having an open bar and an activity (dancing) that encourages people to engage in intimate physical contact with coworkers. Even after one hour, my friend Jerry was having to ward off advances from a tipsy coworker.

Fortunately I don't drink, I can't dance, and women rarely take notice of me (though that could be because I tend to begin every conversation with a mention of my wife). But open bar + comfy couches + dancing + no spouses allowed = recipe for disaster. I don't think I was in any danger myself, but I'm glad I left when I did.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

A political rant, sort of  

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that our constitution guarantees consenting adults the right to perform pretty much any sexual act they can physically accommodate. Shortly after that ruling, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that nothing in the state constitution prevented a legally binding marriage between two people of the same sex. Throughout everything, there has been a movement among religious and political conservatives to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as "the union of a man and a woman." I have avoided the topic here because it is a political powder keg, and to discuss it would be to veer slightly away from my stated purpose of celebrating marriage. But I figure I can weigh in once.

As I was formulating my thoughts, for some reason I imagined myself at a rally in Washington. I imagined tens of thousands of people gathering on a day when Congress and/or the Senate were meeting to debate and vote on the marriage amendment. And I imagined being given the opportunity to address the crowd. What follows is the text of my imaginary speech.


Marriage is a legal, physical, spiritual, lifelong commitment one man and one woman make to each other. We know that. Everyone knows that. Any attempt to alter that definition is an attempt to undermine and eventually obliterate it. The current effort to legally legitimize same-sex marriage mocks a sacred institution, but society has been systematically undermining marriage for hundreds of years. Is there any aspect of marriage that has not been delegitimized?

We have allowed this to happen. We have undermined marriage ourselves. If society still held the institution as sacred and treated it as such, same-sex marriage wouldn't even exist as an idea. We need to bring back commitment. We need to bring back devotion. We need to bring back love.

If you are a husband, love your wife. Make her the only woman in the world to you. Sacrifice yourself to help her achieve her dreams. Be the leader of your household, and be the type of leader that wants the family to love and respect each other and achieve things that its individual members cannot achieve alone. Serve your wife. Serve your children. Show them what it means to serve one another. Show them by example how Jesus treated people. Make your marriage sacred.

If you are a wife, love your husband. Love him actively and constantly. Never let him doubt that he has the undying devotion of a good woman, the best woman, the only woman in the world to him. The world tears him down every day. You build him up. Be his advocate as much as he is yours. Keep God at the center of your family. Make your marriage sacred.

I don't know what the federal legislature will do today. I don't know how the courts will respond. I'm afraid, though, that we're in a losing battle. In a democracy, the law exists to protect what we value most. In the United States, the law does not protect marriage. What we should do now is build marriage back up. Make it an institution worth protecting. If we can make marriage sacred again, we can show the world how God intended it to be. I truly believe that when we demonstrate how marriage should work, then even if the law recognizes non-sacred relationships, people will look at the pretenders and say, "Who are you trying to fool?"

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The reading of books  

Periodically I get the chance to buy books for next to nothing. Today I got the chance, so I picked up a book by David and Janet Congo called Lifemates: A lover's guide for a lifetime relationship. Looking through it, I see that it is full of mainly just common sense stuff—commit to each other for life, make your marriage a priority, make yourself vulnerable to your mate, be honest with each other, etc. It contains nothing spectacular, no magic spells for making a marriage perfect. But it did get me thinking about other books that have influenced me.

In my Christian life, the book of James (eighth book from the end of the Bible) made the first and biggest impact on me. Its opening admonition helped make sense of my life as a 14-year-old: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." The rest of the book contains some of the most practical spiritual instruction you'll find outside the Sermon on the Mount. Some day I'm just going to memorize the whole thing the way that guy in Fahrenheit 451 (another good book) memorized Ecclesiastes.

And speaking of Ecclesiastes, it was the second book that solidified my faith. At the age of 14, it seemed that all the smart people I knew denied the existence of God while none of the Christians I knew could explain their faith intellectually. Ecclesiastes proved to me that someone wise, wealthy, powerful, driven, extravagantly gifted, and thoroughly human could believe in God as firmly as he believed in his own life. I'm 31 now, and the Christians I have known over the past 17 years have put to rest my fears of faith's compatibility with intellect. The vibrant minds of people who love both God and knowledge make even the most accomplished atheists look sickly pale in comparison.

In a similar vein, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis demonstrated to me how intellect can strengthen faith and vice versa. I have read many books by Lewis now—you can't have a philosophical/theological discussion with Curt and not hear a Lewis quote or two—and find myself eternally grateful that God gave him the gifts of reason and communication and allowed him to share those gifts with the world, and particularly with me. Other notable Lewis books include The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters.

As far as marriage goes, one book in particular encouraged me more than I can express. I read If Only He Knew by Gary Smalley a few months before I got married. I didn't intend to read it. I was living with my grandparents for a few months, and one night pulled that book off of a shelf in the guest bedroom I occupied. I don't remember much about the specifics, but it opened my eyes to the possibilities in marriage. I do remember that it explained the concept of the husband as servant-leader of the household, and that camping is the best family activity that has ever existed in the history of the world. Both points made an impression on me that I doubt will ever wear off.

I have never actually read The Five Love Languages, but the very idea behind it helped make me a better husband. In a nutshell: Find out what makes your wife feel loved, then do it; Find out how your wife expresses love, then let her do that. We all express and perceive love differently. For example, my wife feels more loved when I hug her and say "I love you" than when I buy her a gift or do her laundry. I still buy her gifts and perform acts of service, but I want her to feel as loved and as precious as possible, so I focus my efforts accordingly.

I've always loved to read, and I can almost always learn something new and useful and sometimes life-changing from any book. But these are the books that have really put my life on a new course and made me a better person and a better husband.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Saying "I'm sorry"  

Christianity Today has a fairly extensive collection of articles about marriage dating back to 1996. It's good reading. The articles cover topics ranging from money and spirituality to communication and sex. One article in particular caught my eye. It is titled Don't Say You're Sorry and examines how the words I'm sorry can often ring hollow and make things worse. I personally have found it much more effective to admit specifically when I'm wrong and explain to my wife how and why I failed to take her feelings into account. When she knows that I understand how I hurt her feelings, she's more willing to listen and forgive, especially when I've acted out of a lack of information or insight.

I'm sorry by itself usually accomplishes nothing. True apology and repentance, however, can bring a quick end to an argument and start the reconciliation.

This brings to mind quotes from a couple of movies.

From Love Story:

OLIVER BARRET IV (Ryan O'Neal)
Love means never having to say you're sorry.

From What's Up, Doc?

JUDY MAXWELL (Barbra Streisand)
Love means never having to say you're sorry.

HOWARD BANNISTER (Ryan O'Neal)
That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.


Update: In the comments section, Matt has pointed out that I misspelled Ms. Streisand's first name. That is now corrected. I must admit that I had no idea anyone ever purposely spelled Barbara without the second a. A search of the Internet Movie Database, however, turns up 19 actresses named Barbra. I learned something new today.

As a side note, nearly five years ago Matt pointed out the last word I spelled incorrectly. It was liaison and I had left out the second i.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Marriage links for the week  

Wellington Boone is a popular speaker at Promise Keepers conferences. He tells men to be a servant leader in the home, an idea I wholeheartedly endorse and aspire to. Wellington is also the author of Your Wife is Not Your Momma: How You Can Have Heaven in Your Home.

I've said before in this space that older generations need to do a better job of educating younger generations in the ways of marriage. Today's 20-somethings aspire to marriage but have no idea what they're in for.

57 years of good marriage makes one man an expert. He even wrote a book. I haven't read it, so I can't endorse it. I'll certainly be checking it out, though.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Life stories  

When I was in college, I wanted to be a journalist. I didn't actually care about the stuff journalists are supposed to care about, mind you. I didn't want to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. I didn't have a burning desire to play a huge role in maintaining an informed electorate. I didn't have an ambition to root out and expose corruption at the highest levels. I just wanted to have stories to tell. I wanted a job that would make every day interesting.

The longer I studied journalism, the more I realized how much I wanted to do something else, anything else. I value the free American press. It is one of the pillars propping up our society. But I believe that anyone who would be a successful, influential journalist must also be demonstrably unbalanced, to put it mildly. That point hit me hard when, during my senior year, the editor-in-chief of The Dallas Morning News delivered a guest lecture to my advanced reporting class. He said, "One of my best photographers just got back from Bosnia. The shots he brought home were some of the most heart-wrenching images of war-torn misery, death, and destruction I've ever seen. What other profession could offer you that kind of opportunity?" He was genuinely excited. Even at the time I thought he asked the wrong question. The question on my mind was, "Who else but a morbidly insane writer or photographer would crave that kind of opportunity?"

So I graduated with a degree in journalism, and I have yet to write a single word for a newspaper or magazine. I took my career in a different direction. While my current job pays a little more than a newspaper would, it offers nothing in the way of interesting conversation. Say what you will about the insane Bosnia photographer, but he has some great stories to tell his grandchildren.

Since my job doesn't provide me with any stories to tell, my stories have to come from regular life. The catch is that the best stories from regular life are the ones from difficult times. Some day when I sit down with my grandkids, I probably won't tell them about the two or three nice, uneventful days Mrs. Happy and I spent vacationing in Colorado. I'll tell them about the day when

for some reason your grandmother thought it would be fun to visit a casino, so we hopped on this van that was taking people to a gambling district 100 miles away from our hotel. Unfortunately, she has never liked to carry a purse and has never made a habit of engaging in any sort of vice, so it didn't occur to her that she would need her driver's license to prove she was old enough to gamble. No single business in the entire town would let her through the front door, until we managed to sneak past one casino's security, and….

Mrs. Happy, on the other hand, will probably tell them how it came about on another day during that trip that their grandfather swore off horseback riding forever.

I probably won't tell them about that one New Year's Eve when we didn't go out, but just sat at home watching Dick Clark on TV. I'll tell them about the Thanksgiving when

we decided we'd go camping and eat roasted hot dogs and marshmallows instead of turkey and dressing. We forgot that the end of November is probably the coldest time of year in Texas, especially in the Hill Country, so when we woke up at 4:00 a.m. on the verge of hypothermia, we tried to start a fire. Let me tell you, nothing wants to burn when it's 22 degrees*, so….

I probably won't tell them about a week when we were both perfectly healthy and nothing disturbed the routine of our lives. I will, however tell them about the week that began with

this incredible football game. I was spectacular. Your grandfather was so fast that the quarterback couldn't throw the ball fast enough to keep up with him. But I was also out of shape, so every muscle and bone in my body ached when I got home. I was looking forward to letting your grandmother take care of me, but she was suddenly terribly sick with a cough and fever. I tried nursing her through, but I couldn't heal her myself, so I prayed for the first time in two years. That one incident completely revitalized my spiritual life. Then when Grandmother started getting better, I started coughing uncontrollably, running a fever, sneezing, aching, you name it. We had tickets to see Simon & Garfunkel at Madison Square Garden, but I was too sick to go. She managed to find a friend of a friend who could go with her, and that started a chain of events we could never have foreseen….

Difficulties overcome make the fondest memories. If I have a non-spiritual motto, this is it: Fun times are fun while they last, but hard times make the best stories for the rest of your life.


*That's -6 degrees for my international friends.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Thanks  

I'd like to thank everyone for their prayers over the last couple of days. My wife returned to work today. She's still coughing, but feels fine otherwise. I just visited my doctor, who gave me a couple of prescriptions and also, thankfully, confirmed Dr. Warnock's opinion (in yesterday's comments) that there's no reason for me not to kiss my wife. I still don't feel much like writing, but I hope to resume regular blogging activities tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Sick again  

I don't mean to harp on sickness, but it's consuming my life right now. My wife felt a lot better today, but I caught whatever she had and stayed in bed until 4:00 p.m. Further complicating matters is a birthday present I bought for her in October: two tickets to a Dec. 3 Simon and Garfunkel concert in Madison Square Garden. She's a huge fan of S&G. I'm a moderate admirer. There was no way I'd be able to go. After calling people all day long, Mrs. Happy finally found a friend of a friend who could accompany her.

We have instituted a painful no-germs policy that eliminates kissing, eating and drinking after each other, and facing each other in bed until we're both healthy. That's probably worse than the coughing, fever, and headaches combined.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

All things for the good  

I haven't prayed in nearly two years. Not seriously, fervently, spontaneously, and personally, anyway. Here and there I have led the church or a church group in prayer, and I have sat down and prayed with people who needed comfort, but I have not devoted any real time to communication between me and God alone. A couple of years ago I went through a series of difficulties during which my most intense prayers seemed to go unanswered. I never doubted that God is in control. I never doubted that He makes all circumstances work for the good of those who love Him, even if we can't always see how that's true. I never doubted His love for me. I just started to doubt that prayer did any good. God knows what's best, and He's promised to do that whether I ask for it or not. So for nearly two years I have brought Him few requests of any kind and none of a personal nature. During that time, I have made decisions based on my own reasoning, solved problems using the tools at my disposal, and generally tried to change the things I could, accept the things I could not, use my rational abilities to discern the difference, and in the process generally lost all sense of God's presence in my life.

Sunday night, however, I prayed. I prayed seriously, fervently, spontaneously, and personally. Lying wide awake at 2:38 a.m. next to a beloved wife suffering through two full minutes of dry, racking coughs through which she could barely breathe, I realized anew just how powerless I am and how pointless it is to go through life not leaning on God. So I began praying silently. I prayed for healing for my wife. She kept coughing, but I prayed anyway. I prayed for an elderly friend of ours experiencing health problems. I prayed for Todd. I prayed for a friend of mine going through seemingly insurmountable marital problems. I started praying and the floodgates opened, both in my prayers and in my tears. I realized that even though I had lost the feeling of God's presence in my life, He had of course never left me. Forgive me for indulging in cheesiness here, but when I look back over the beach of my life, I'll probably see one set of footprints in the sand of these past two years.

I took Mrs. Happy to the doctor yesterday. He prescribed some medicine that should help her and also told her to get a chest x-ray to make sure that her lungs are okay. As we got ready for bed last night, she sat down and coughed. And coughed. And coughed. I sat down next to her, and during a short break in the coughing I told her about the previous night, about how much I had prayed. The muscles in her face relaxed. She looked at me and said, "So something good is coming of this. I was starting to get angry about it." We talked about it for awhile, about how her sickness made me pray again and how my praying comforted her. Some people would say that everything happens for a reason, and that maybe she got sick so that I would start praying again. I don't believe that, but it wouldn't surprise me either. I do believe, however, that God often makes wonderful things grow out of terrible situations, and that this is one small example of how He works.


Update: The chest x-ray showed no signs of pneumonia, but she's still coughing more than I've ever seen a human being cough. Now we just have to wait and pray that the medicine works the way it's supposed to.

Monday, December 01, 2003

More sickness  

A couple of weeks ago, I complained here in this space about my runny nose, my aching head, my cough-induced raw throat, and a few other ailments plaguing me at the time (actually, I complained two days in a row, here and here). My wife took good care of me during my sickness, but just about the time I started feeling like my normal self again, she started coughing. She spent this past week trying to will her cough to go away, but it finally got the best of her on Friday, the day I played football for three hours and came home barely able to move.

In one of those previous posts, I wrote:

On the other side of things, I don't much like for her to be sick. I do enjoy and crave the responsibility of caring for her in her vulnerability, but I hate the helpless feeling of not being able to heal her myself. About a year ago she developed some sort of bronchitis and could not stop coughing. She suffered quite a bit, but (even by her account) not as much as I did. I hated that I couldn't defend her from the infection inside her body. I wanted to take it into my own so that she wouldn't have to hurt anymore. But I couldn't. All I could do was give her medicine, keep her as comfortable as possible, and kiss her forehead all day long.

She appears to be suffering from the same thing now as she was then (diagnosed as asthmatic bronchitis), only this time seems worse. The inhalers the doctor prescribed seemed to work magic back then, but now they don't offer much relief. She coughs constantly except while sleeping, mucus clogs her nasal passages so she can't breathe through her nose, and her temperature hovers around 101 and 102 degrees.

I've been doing my best to take care of her even though I'm shuffling around like a 95-year-old. She may have hit a turning point on Sunday. My constant attention and some turkey soup from our NY surrogate parents Russ and Sue have raised her spirits considerably. As I write this she's happily watching an episode of Law & Order.


I met a guy once who told me that his wife had just recovered from a year-long bout with some sort of cancer. He told me that the year had been difficult, but he had stayed with her. He actually stuck out his chest when he said that, and also mentioned that some of his friends didn't understand why he wouldn't leave her. I wanted to paraphrase Chris Rock and say, "Whaddaya want, a cookie? You're not supposed to leave your wife, you low-expectation-having foulfilthblankinswearword!"

I don't mean to be judgmental. I've never been in that position, so I can't say with certainty how I would handle it. But I do know that the times when my wife is sick and vulnerable are the times I feel the greatest affection toward her. It's those times when I can really serve her without expecting anything in return, which after all is how I'm supposed to serve her all the time.