Dating Ashley 2012: some traditions

I am a big fan of family traditions. They seem to bridge the past with the present and help us remember the faithfulness of God for the future.

Here’s a few things we’ve been doing since we’ve been married. They help us remember the past, plan for the future, and be thankful for the present.

Around our anniversary (June 20th) we plan a night out without the kid(s). In our first year of marriage we bought a nice anniversary journal that we only pull out twice a year (anniversary and in the New Year).  In it, we record three things:

1)     Major events of the previous year of marriage. Basically, all the things that stood out. We include vacations, celebrations, life-changes, etc.

2)     A specific commitment to each other. The anniversary is a great time to talk about our marriage and be honest about our strengths and weaknesses. After an honest conversation, we write down what we want to be better at (with the Lord’s help) in our next year of marriage. We sign it.

3)     Predictions for the next year. This is purely for fun. We go back and forth, making predictions. Sometimes they’re related to family (e.g. Ashley will be pregnant by August) and sometimes they’re kinda silly (e.g. The Lakers are going to win the NBA finals). We always get a laugh out of these when we go back and look at them.

Another special date is around the New Year. It works out perfectly for us, because the New Year is the exact halfway point of our marriage year. Six months after our anniversary we get to think through our marriage and family again. We don’t go to the movies because we want to be able to talk. We make sure it’s just the two of us, so we get someone to watch Emma.

On this special date, we start by talking about the previous year. We look at the journal, the commitments we made to each other, the predictions, and the major events.

1)     We look at the anniversary journal. We look at the commitments we made on our anniversary, the predictions we thought of, and the major events.

2)     We make a top-ten event list. We get out our calendars (Ashley keeps a calendar book containing most of the year’s events) and try to remember all the big events. We always have a fun time remembering; there are always events that we had forgotten that make us laugh. Instead of writing down all the main events, we pick the top ten events and write them down. We also pull out the top ten lists from previous years. It’s fun to see the top ten events of years past—some of which are nearly forgotten or seem so insignificant.

3)     We talk about the future. After thinking about the past for a while, we start to think about the future. I try to get us thinking about potential vacations, life changes, spiritual goals, marriage commitments, parental goals, etc. We together try to imagine what the year will look like. We talk about the things we’d like to do, whether it be ministry, dates, trips, achievements, or education. We consider finances (briefly—finance talks aren’t always the most fun), what purchases we might consider making, what we’d like to save for, and where most of our money is going to go.

We’ve found these things to be good for our marriage, especially helping us maintain a sense of unity, closeness, openness, companionship, and joy. It helps us communicate and plan. It also brings us the great blessing of remember God’s providence in the past and his promise for the future. The anniversary journal is for us an Ebenezer, a fixed stone of remembrance testifying to the great mercy of our God.

Husbands, I encourage you to date your wife. Be proactive and creative. Show your children how much you treasure her. Share, as much as possible, in the grace of life together. When you share together the joys and burdens of marriage, you will find, as Ashley and I have, that the old axiom is true: your joys are doubled and burdens halved.



Threatened by parenting

The idea of parenting continually threatens me. I am a new parent, and though she’s only one, she does a fantastic job of reminding me that I am a man in need of some major wisdom. My self-sufficiency is threatened. My assumptions are threatened. My ideals are threatened. With every passing week I am made aware of my own deficiencies, my own failures, my own stupid habits, my own inabilities. But I guess all this is good, God wants me low. Weakness is the highway to strength. People need to be broken before of they’re of any real use. Sometimes God uses hurricanes and earthquakes to teach us this. Sometimes he uses one-year-olds.

What message is your marriage preaching?

I’ve been thinking about buying this book for a while now. Tim Challies gave it a positive review, and I’ve been looking for a book that addresses how the gospel applies to parenting. Well, as the title indicates, Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley does just that.

Here’s an excerpt that Challies put up on his blog that I wanted to share.

“This mystery [marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Here is Paul’s point. From before time began, God had marriage on his mind. He was preparing a bride for his Son, whom he would marry forever. It would take the crucifixion and resurrection of the Groom to bring this marriage to pass. Think of it. God created the most intimate human relationship, marriage, to speak of the intimacy of his relationship with his church.

God created the institution of human marriage to reflect, or mirror forth, this eternal union. In other words, human marriage exists to point men and angels to the eternal marriage of Christ and his church. The gospel made this divine marriage possible. Here is our point: human marriage exists to preach the gospel. It exists to illustrate the fruit that should follow the preaching of the gospel in the church.

To whom does our marriage preach? Of course, the first audience is God and his angels. They watch and rejoice, or if our marriage is a war zone, they grieve.

Who is the second audience? Most of us think first about our non-Christian neighbors. Maybe they will see our attempts to model Christian marriage and want the gospel? They might, and we hope they will, but actually they are the third audience.

The second audience, usually overlooked by most Christians, is our children. What is our marriage telling them about Christ and his bride? They see it all. They hear our fights. They absorb our attitudes. They know who or what really sits on the throne of our lives. They watch how we handle resentment. They hear the way we talk to each other. They know when we hear the Sunday sermon and apply it. They also know when we ignore it.

The message that our marriage preaches either repels or attracts our children. God wants your child to watch your marriage and think, “I want a marriage like that, and I want the God that produced it.” Or, “When I think of the beauty of the gospel, I think of my parents’ marriage. I want to be part of a church that is loved by God the way my dad loves my mother. I want to be part of a church that finds its joy in submitting to Christ as my mother joyfully submits to my father.”

Life Moments

Every once and a while in life something huge happens, like a flash flood. When the waters subside, it’s strangely calm and you get a moment to think about what just happened.

I already gave you some of the details of what actually happened. That was the flash flood of life happening. It happens too fast to really savor it. People always say that you need to take some time and smell the roses. But sometimes you can’t. The floodwaters carried you away too fast.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it.  Emma Grace Durso entering the world was one of the greatest moments of overwhelming happiness I’ve ever experienced. It just goes to show that the times of highest joy are also the times you are completely lost in something else. Elation happens when self-reflection isn’t happening. So the joy was overwhelming. I can remember moments within the moment. And being so overwhelmed that laughter and tears were came unbidden. The flood of emotion carried me away.

All that to say that the moment is just that– a moment. It’s here; it’s gone.

So after Emma got all cleaned up and the doctor situated Ashley in the recovery room I had to go home. And then the reflection came. I stopped to smell the roses.

I sat in my car in the parking lot of our apartment. It was perfectly quiet. Exhausted beyond measure, hunger hit me like a tornado– I hadn’t eaten in a long time. Thankfully, Uncle Jack and Aunt Jan had bought some McDonalds, and since I hadn’t gotten the chance to eat I unwrapped a past-midnight snack.

And there I sat, eating my long-cold McDonalds cheeseburger at three in the morning. Thinking.

That took a long time.

Oh man, that part right before the epidural. That was awful.

My life is never going to be the same.

I hope Ashley is able to sleep tonight.

I’m so thankful for a good family.

Ashley is tough.

Emma is beautiful.

I need to get to sleep.

A Tribute to My Mother and All Mothers

It is a very appropriate thing that we celebrate Mother’s Day.

There is something very special about mother’s day. I’ve noticed that a profound change comes over a woman when she becomes a mother– it’s an incredible thing that I’ve been able to witness in the last few years with my sister having Tae in 2007 and Ashley’s sister having Jackson about a month ago. When women become mothers, it seems like something is awakened from deep within the soul– the highest affections are spilled out upon a little baby. Just listen to way a new mother talks– it’s amazing. Literally, the way they speak changes. There may be nothing in the world more tender than a mother holding her newborn baby.

Believe it or not, I was once a baby. And on September 22nd, 1985 I exited my mother’s tummy and entered into the world. My mother held me in her arms and spoke softly to me in whispers and coos. And since then the love she’s had for me and our family has been unchanging. That’s why I wanted to write I tribute to her and to all mothers– your job is perhaps the most important in the world– shepherding a child into a grown adult. That’s important. Thank you.

There are three things about my mom that I want to thank her for. I could do a much bigger list, but for time’s sake I’ll keep it short.

1. Love for dad.

My mom loves my dad. That’s something I’ve never questioned. And from the time that I could understand the concept of marriage I knew that I wanted someone who really loved me. This would be a problem if I didn’t know what a woman’s love was supposed to look like, but for me it was something I saw exemplified every day in our home. It was because of her example that I was able to catch such a good wife myself!

Quick example: I remember one Christmas my mom wrote this on one of the presents she got for me dad:

To: The Love of My Life

From: Tammi

And I think that tiny memory stuck in my head all these years because I knew that I wanted a wife who could love like that. (And I got one!)

Now that I’m all grown up and married I understand the mother/wife role a little better. The support that Ashley gives me behind the scenes is praiseworthy, even though no one sees it! I could not do ministry without her. And because of this I’ve realized how my mom was a helper to my dad. A wife’s unfailing, uncritical, and unconditional love– the kind of love that just wants to sit close to you on the couch— is often the biggest support she can give to her husband. My mom is that way. She just loves dad.

2. Love for us kids.

Over the years there are times when, as a little boy, then a teenager, and even through college years, life hurts. Whether it’s a break-up or a lost championship game or simply awkwardness at school, it happens, and it’s hard. When I look back at the things in my life that seemed so huge at the time my mom was always the one to empathize and comfort me. She was readily involved in the petty ups and downs of her children’s lives. She cried with us and hugged us and prayed for us and offered us unobtrusive, trustworthy wisdom. Her response was never to expect us to get over it or to simply let it go— she was caring, gentle, patient, and kind. I see that now. And I am thankful for it.

3. Love for life.

My mom is adventurous! She likes trying new things (like blogging– here’s her blog). She’s fun to be around. She enjoys the little things in life (this post in her blog is a case in point– little things make her happy!). I don’t know how many times I’ve heard her say something to the effect that she’s in heaven when all her family is with her. There’s something inspiring being around someone who loves life. That’s my mom.


So there are a few things. The funny thing is that my mom will blush and deny that this is actually the way she is. But that’s just her humility– never thinking very highly of herself and always thinking of others first.

I love you mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

Emma Grace Durso: My Firstborn

A week ago we got the gender information from the nurse in an envelop. We kept in in our kitchen and promised not to peek. On Friday Ashley dropped off the envelop to the bakery– if it’s a boy, blue filling. If it’s a girl; pink.  Sunday afternoon we picked it up, opening the cake box for a brief moment to see what it looked like and closing it in case we saw anything that might give it away. As soon as we got home we put the cake in the fridge and tried to forget about it. Monday night, the all family and friends came to watch us cut the cake.

I had game-time feelings as I was about to cut the cake. Athletes know what I’m talking about. The adrenaline is pumping. There’s a “let’s get this done” kind of attitude.

We cut the cake. I couldn’t find the pink or blue. Then Ashley yells (after, of course, a HUGE INHALE) “IT’S A GIRL!”

Now pause.

Because that’s what my brain did. For at least 10 seconds, I literally couldn’t speak. And not because I couldn’t think of the right words for the occasion (that doesn’t stop me from saying something, usually). I was tongue-tied because for those ten seconds my brain shut down every other sensory input mechanism to focus on one thing: the life of this little girl.

I’m not making this up for the sake of story. This happened to me. It wasn’t my life flashing before my eyes; it was Emma Grace Durso’s.

She was an infant.

She was a little girl on the playground.

She was a teenage girl in high school.

She was getting ready to go to college.

She was meeting boys (the hardest thought by far).

She was getting married.

She was having her own kids.

And then switch–back to reality.

Screaming all around. Flash photography going bonkers. Skype everywhere. Cake. Finally, after hugging Ashley and numbly fumbling around with the cake, I am able to speak.

And the words that I say are typical, athlete eloquence: “YEAH!” (at about 49 seconds in)

As you can tell, I am excited to meet Emma Grace. To hold her as an infant. To play with her on the playground (or in the playhouse). To help her with her homework. To send her off to college. To firmly (very firmly–awkwardly firmly) shake the hand of the boy she introduces me to. To walk her down the aisle. To be a grandparent (weird to already think of that). These will all be blessings I don’t deserve.

This morning I read the poem I wrote for my firstborn, before I knew it was Emma. I thought I’d repost the first stanza because it best describes my heart right now. (Even though line 5 is no longer true.)

To my firstborn, I don’t know
which direction you might go
In life. I’ve never heard you cry,
I’ve never heard a solemn sigh.
And I don’t know your name just yet,
but when I think of you I get
A deep, abiding feeling of love,
something before I’d only heard of—
How a dad’s heart longs to hold;
protect and keep within the fold
of safety. How I wait to see
your love surround our family.
But more than anything, I pray,
that you would love God more than day.
Emma’s life verse (chosen by Ashley) is 2 Peter 3:18

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

A Poem to My Firstborn

I am not a good poet, but in times of great thought and emotion, a poem springs forth.  The day Ashley told me she was pregnant, welling within me were thoughts and feelings that I had to capture and put to form. (Apologies to Dr. Simons, my poetry teacher.)

To My Firstborn

To my firstborn, I don’t know
which direction you might go
In life. I’ve never heard you cry,
I’ve never heard a solemn sigh.
And I don’t know your name just yet,
but when I think of you I get
A deep, abiding feeling of love,
something before I’d only heard of—
How a dad’s heart longs to hold;
protect and keep within the fold
of safety. How I wait to see
your love surround our family.
But more than anything, I pray,
that you would love God more than day.

To my firstborn, I don’t know
what makes you laugh. What kind of joke
Will I tell just for the sake
of hearing your laugh silence break?
And as your breath emits the sound,
what noise will come when bliss abounds?
In time, we will learn all these thrills,
discovering the joy that fills
Our rooms with dear and pleasant riches,
holding close our family’s wishes:
That as you seek to love God first,
we pray he’ll give you an unsatisfied thirst
For truth, for knowledge, for wisdom above—
all blanketed in an innocent love.

To my firstborn, an emotion follows,
filling up my inner hollows
with complete weakness, total inept,
to help you say “God’s ways, I’ve kept
from my youth, I’ve failed at times,
but Christ forgave, his love—it binds
my heart to his.”
And so we come, your mother and I
before the throne of grace and cry
out before the living God for grace
to pour upon our humble place.
He gently pats me on the arm,
and calms my heart from this alarm,
“My grace is enough when you are weak.
Cast your cares to the cross and only trust me.”

To my firstborn, seek wisdom for any cost!
Without it we are all but lost.
Be wise in what you choose to do,
your choice of friends needs wisdom too.
Be wise in how you choose a spouse,
consult the living God and dowse
Your days and nights in earnest prayer,
there’s misery in an unhappy pair.
And when the times comes when you cleave to another,
remember to always be blessing your mother,
So in winter, warm, all clothed and dressed—
rise up and call your mother blessed,
Her love is deep and maternally adorned,
deluge her with blessings and laud her, firstborn.

To my firstborn, be strong and be brave,
to fight for the truth all life to the grave!
So when the time comes to exit our home,
and enter the world of scary unknown
Stay close to your family, if only in soul.
But go as God leads you, to the ends of the world.
And when the storms of life glare down,
I pray your eyes are heaven-bound,
And when the Lord permits delight,
I pray you’ll thank him in the night.
And if the Lord demands your life,
I pray you’ll look at me and my wife,
Remind me that it’s worth all the pain,
because for you, to die is gain.