Raising the Bar on Date Nights

The prince and I decided before we were even married (in 1998!) that we would make weekly date nights a priority. That much we got right. We carved out one evening a week to spend together and guarded it diligently. If an outside event interfered, we rescheduled our date. However, we never planned what we would do.  It usually degenerated into: “What do you want to do?”  “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

We got away with that for a while. In the excitement of young love, we were happy simply sitting on the couch and talking, going for a walk & talking or rolling a ball (with a floating fish inside) back & forth on the floor & talking (that game got an added dimension when we added kitties to our “castle”–they play with the ball as much as we do!). But as time went on and stresses grew, the relationship-building impact of our date nights began to slip.  Conversations became more one-sided.  The element of fun dwindled. We needed something more.

However, there were significant limitations on what we could do. Food allergies make going out to eat nigh unto impossible. I feel spiritually sick after most movies. And neither of us are socialites or sports enthusiasts. We need some creativity here!

Enter “Project 52 Date Nights“.

Here’s a challenge to plan each date, to make it a special occasion, and to take turns taking responsibility for the evening. The site also gives examples of very creative dates to get ideas flowing.

In July of 2010 showed my prince the “contract”, commenting that I’d be interested in trying something similar. Much to my surprise, a few days later he said that he’d like to sign the “contract” as it stood under two conditions:
1) we start the following month (August) and
2) I take the planning for the first month.

It’s a deal!

Below you will see the results of our adventure, described in enough detail to give you a leg-up on planning your own creative dates :).  You might want to”begin at the beginning” and see how things progressed.

Let the fun begin!

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Marriage As a Vocation

I was asked to speak to a local vocations club (mainly elderly people who pray for and support young men & women who are discerning the Religious life) about marriage as a vocation. I expanded on this in person, but here’s the gist of the presentation:

Opening Prayer:
Father, You have made the bond of marriage a holy mystery,
a symbol of Christ’s love for His Church.
Bless all those in the loving union of marriage
and make their love fruitful
so that they may be living witnesses to Your divine love in the world.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(Adapted from the Opening Prayer of the Wedding Mass)

It’s an unusual honor for me to be here. You’re used to hearing from priests and seminarians–I’m just a housewife, and my prince isn’t even here with me! He’s got students to teach, but he’s been praying for this meeting all week because this is very close to his heart too. I was asked to speak to you because of the vocations crisis–but not the one you’re used to thinking of. We have a serious vocations crisis…to the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

The first time I heard that, it startled me. But if you think for just a moment about the culture we live in, you can see that it’s true. It’s considered normal to live together, to get divorced, to complain about your spouse. But a happy, holy family? That’s rare!

This isn’t just theory to me. I come from a broken, abusive home. When I was in my teens, if both of my parents were in the house at the same time, the tension was so strong you could cut the air with a knife. I lived with the fear of violence, the pain of being abandoned, and having parents who were suffering so much themselves that they were in no position to prepare me for adult life. I had already decided, years before, that I wanted to be a Sister, but my parents’ divorce–if this is marriage, I want no part of it!

I spent ten years in college & then grad school, praying about my vocation & trying to figure out where God wanted me. In 1996, when all my searching finally came together, I gave away everything except 2 boxes & 2 suitcases & went to Florida to join the Sisters of St. Clare as a live-in candidate. On the way to there, on my last whirlwind visit to family and friends, one of my stops was at a Baptism as the Godmother. The Godfather was a young man I’d met briefly a couple of years before at this couples’ wedding. He understood the struggles of discerning a vocation from his own days in the seminary, before God made it abundantly clear that He wanted him somewhere else. We started corresponding, and he was a great support as I floundered in trying to adjust to convent life. I didn’t know what I was doing & the Sisters didn’t quite know what to do with me. To make a long story short, in just over two months, the novice mistress told me to “go home and discern some more.” I’d been discerning for over 10 years. I’d put all my eggs in this basket. I had no fallback position. But I wasn’t in any position to argue either. I was utterly exhausted from trying to fit into a place that God wanted me to leave.

My head was spinning. The one piece of clarity I still had from my years of discernment was that I need community. I just don’t do well alone. But I don’t do well in large groups of people either. Community of two? To make another long story short, I gave myself to God through the Godfather I met on my way to the convent.

We had a distinct advantage in going this route–both my prince and I had spent years discerning our vocations. Both of us came to marriage as a vocation, as a sacred calling from God–a calling neither of us expected! At the same time, we knew we had our work cut out for us. If we just did “what comes naturally,” we’d end up just like our parents–a dysfunctional home was all we ever knew (which is pretty common nowadays)–and we were bound & determined not to let that happen! We were most grateful that we each had a grandmother praying for us!

We started studying marriage, asking hard questions and searching for answers. It’s been 15 years now & we’ve still got a long way to go. But we have learned a few things along the way.

First of all, what does the ideal marriage look like? What’s its point, its purpose? What are we aiming for? [Bride of Christ picture] Through Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we found the ideal marriage in the Bible, in God’s love for His people. In the Garden of Eden, God celebrated the wedding of Adam and Eve, because it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). God is not alone. He is Trinity, a divine union of three Persons. We are created in His image–for communion. Over and over in the Old Testament, God says His people are like a faithless bride, who’s given herself to other lovers. But He still loves her, and He will win her back. In the New Testament, St. Paul says that Jesus is the Bridegroom Who loved His Bride so much that He gave Himself up for her, to make her glorious, holy and immaculate, without spot or wrinkle or anything of that sort. The Church is the Bride, surrendering herself to Jesus’ mission to make her beautiful (Ephesians 5:22-33). At the End of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, we see the Church as the Bride of the Lamb, radiant and pure and filled with joy (Revelation 19:7-9, 21:2). The whole story of our salvation is the story of a marriage!

This is what we’re aiming for. My prince is called to be an image of Christ, laying down his life for me, to make me holy. I am called to be an image of the Church, surrendering to my prince’s mission to make me spiritually glorious. Marriage is a participation in God’s love, a sharing in the communion, in the inner life of the Blessed Trinity! As husband and wife, our most important mission in life is to love each other into Heaven, to help each other to become saints. Everything else is secondary. This is radically counter cultural! And just as the Church is fruitful, bearing children for the Kingdom of Heaven through Baptism, so husband and wife are to be fruitful, bearing children and training them to be saints (God hasn’t blessed us with biological children, but Brian’s students are “his kids,” we have several Godchildren, and we pass the Faith along in various ways). In fact, the Church calls the family the “Domestic Church,” and says, “become what you are!”

When people see us, they should be able to say to each other, “That’s what God’s love looks like.” Marriage and the family is where God’s love takes on flesh in our world, today. Is it any wonder that so many people have such distorted ideas about God?

Marriage isn’t for wimps. Marriage is for heroes. And we’re all called to be spiritual heroes. That’s why Pope Francis is challenging young people to be courageous in love, to take the risk of making a lifetime commitment. That’s also why he’s called the bishops together for an extraordinary meeting next year to ask how the Church can help families even more than She already does.

Marriage–real marriage–is supernatural. We can’t love the way God loves on our own steam, through thick and thin. It requires supernatural power. That’s why God made marriage a sacrament–a source of divine power. God already lives in me through my Baptism, but through the Sacrament of marriage, God offers me His own divine love–to love my husband. It’s up to me to use that divine love, to choose to love when it hurts, to be like Jesus on the Cross. [crucifix] This is what married love looks like. And you know it doesn’t end there. The Bridegroom who lays down His life for His Bride rises again in glory.

God also strengthens us as spouses through the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist. In Confession, He clears away obstacles to love. He gives us grace to overcome the sins we’ve confessed so we can love rightly. In Holy Communion, Jesus and His Bride become one flesh. This is marriage. We unite with Him and He with us in the most intimate way possible. And as we come into Communion with Jesus, we grow in communion with each other. We are united with the Body of Christ, which is the Host, yes, but the Body of Christ is also the whole Church and every member of the Church (I Cor 12: 12, 27). Holy Communion is the sacrament of union with Jesus, and with each other. In addition, Jesus feeds us with Himself. He strengthens us to become more like Him–better lovers. You become what you eat. There’s power here–supernatural power. We need to tap into it. The Church also offers blessings for families. [Book of Blessings] Besides the blessings built into the wedding Mass, there are blessings for birthdays, anniversaries, homes, pregnancy (and a new one for the child within the womb), children, the elderly confined to home, students, travelers, things like the advent wreath, the nativity scene, rosaries and other devotional items–the list goes on & on. Blessings are there for the asking–and we ask! We need all the help we can get & we know it! Every anniversary we catch Father after Mass & ask for his blessing. And our wedding rings are sacramentals–sources of grace–because they’re blessed.

Prayer–you know there is no vocation without prayer. As we spend time with God individually and together, He makes us more like Him. We learn how He loves–how we need to love in our relationships.

Do we live up to this ideal of love? Far from it! We have no laurels to rest on. It’s such a comfort to know that our marriage is God’s work, that He’s our guarantee, as long as we keep working with Him.  He will never give up on us.

This is a landmark year for us. We celebrated 15 years of marriage last June. That’s the last anniversary my parents ever celebrated–nearly 30 years ago. By God’s grace, we’re as committed as we were the day we married (which was totally!). My prayer for our marriage from the beginning has been this: “Lord, help us to be an ever better image of Your Love for Your Bride, the Church, a witness of what You can do with a marriage that’s given over to You, even against the odds.”

You are here because you care about vocations. You care so much that you make sacrifices for holy priests and Religious. Holy priests and Religious come from holy families. And holy families need holy priests and Religious. They go together. We need your prayers for holy families, for shining lights of God’s love in a dark, self-absorbed world. My prince and I each credit our faith, and what success we have as a married couple, to our praying grandmothers. We like to say, “Never underestimate the power of a praying grandmother!” (it goes for praying grandfathers too, but we don’t have much experience of that). We need your sufferings–and I know you have them!–offered to God in union with Jesus’ crucifixion for holy families.

You can help young people catch the vision of Holy Matrimony as a sacred calling from God, as a glorious image of divine love, by the way you talk to them about your own lives and about your spouse (praise or criticism) and about what they’re going through. You can challenge the youth not to settle for less than God’s best, in whatever vocation He has for them.

I’d like to close with a quote from Pope John Paul II, soon to be canonized a saint: He said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” You inspire vocations–whether to the priesthood, Religious life or Holy Matrimony, by living your vocation well, by your faithful devotion to God wherever you are. May God bless your ministry!

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A Dance A Day

I love it when my prince goes on retreat–
he always comes home with presence for me–the best present of all :).

This year, he also brought back a vision,
a resolution which he presented formally a few days later,
on our 15-year anniversary:

ResolutionCompressed

He’d already been living it.
I’m loving it!

One element he’d been pondering was dance.
I love to dance (and we met at a dance–wedding reception),
but any spinning/twirling at all makes him dizzy.

He was wondering if one dance a day
(hug & sway back & forth–he thought he could handle that)
would be frustrating for me (so close & yet so far…).

Hey, I’ll take what I can get!

It’s been a blessing.

He typically picks a song off of YouTube (lots of options)
that has a romantic message for me (although I’ve chosen a couple too).

I curtsey to him. He bows to me.
And we dance.

It’s an intimate time,
gazing into each others eyes,
Dance1
nestling in each others’ arms,
Dance2
just a couple of minutes every day where we stop the world and reconnect–
to music.
We close with another bow and curtsey and “Thank you, Sweetheart :).”

I recommend it!

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Indoor Fishing Date

As we were tossing a beanbag (dried cherry pits sewn into a scrap of fabric)
back & forth over conversation the other day
I noted that we could make a carnival-type beanbag toss game
where you aimed for holes to win various forms of physical affection.
My prince thought that had potential…my wheels started turning!

So far, Bonkers is still our best “connective” date.
Could I take that idea
(semi-random instructions for enjoying each other)
to another venue…?
My knowledge of the beanbag toss is that it would be limited
to just a few “prizes” (one per hole).
What about a game that had more variety in winning?

The duckpond has potential, but we don’t have rubber ducks.
I may yet pursue that–there are some incredible rubber duckies out there!
(The ads say the cute ones don’t float upright,
but there ought to be a way to weight them…)

What about the fishing game?

I was off & running :)!

I looked up a list of common types of fish and let my sense of wordplay run:

tuna–sing a tune for your sweetie
angelfish-greet your guardian angels and welcome them. Ask them to bless you as a couple, and ask your Sweetie’s guardian angel in particular to bless him/her.
flounder-flounder around with your sweetie
walleye-look lovingly at your sweetie (then “make eyes” at him/her!)
smelt-sniff your sweetie
damselfish-act out a “rescue the damsel-in distress” scene with your sweetie
flying fish-fly into your sweetie’s arms
perch-perch on your sweetie’s lap
catfish-pet your sweetie like a kitty
dogfish-give your sweetie puppydog eyes
goldfish-tell your sweetie why he/she is better than gold to you
sheepshead–butt your sweetie with your head
stickleback-scritch your sweetie’s back
mackerel-rub your sweetie’s backerel
fishlips (this was a clip art image I already had of two fish kissing each other) were made for kissing–give your sweetie a fishlips kiss
pickerel-tell your sweetie why you’d pick him/her all over again
rockfish-rock your sweetie
roughy–roughouse with your sweeties
grouper–be your sweetie’s groupy & hang all over him/her
doctorfish-play doctor with your sweetie
flashlight fish-examine your sweetie carefully by flashlight
seahorse-play horsey with your sweetie
herring-stroke your sweetie’s hair
sardine-pack yourself up close to your sweetie as if you were sardines in a can
sole-massage your sweetie’s sole
barracuda-bare something
clownfish-clown around with your sweetie
mullet-put something yummy in your sweetie’s gullet
nibblefish-nibble on your sweetie
pollock-pretend you’re a padlock & “lock up” your sweetie
shad-shed a piece of clothing
shiner-take a shine to your sweetie, and shine on him/her

The easy way would be to print these on fish outlines,
but I wanted to see what those fish looked like,
so I hunted down photos on Wikimedia Commons,
folded them double (so you couldn’t read the instruction until you caught the fish!),
cut them out & wrote the directions inside by hand.
I glued on a tiny circle of wire (cut-up paperclip) at each fish’s mouth
& got a fishing rod ready.
We already had a fishing rod toy for our kitties–
I just had to wrap the end of the beading onto a magnet.

Now for the invitation:

No, I didn’t marry a fisherman…but I was out to change that–at least indoors ;)!

The waterfall is painted on our bedroom wall (which is a story in and of itself).
It came in handy here!

For the menu, I made a picnic of fried Pollock and “bait”:
zucchini cut into “pasta” with a Spirooli for “worms”
(we got ours for a song second hand–it really is pretty amazing–
just beware that it’s insanely easy to slice your fingers open with one of these!)

popcorn “flies”
cracker “minnows” (shaped by hand–Goldfish crackers would’ve come in handy,
but in addition to the allergy issues, my prince said he never liked them anyway).
Half of the minnows were sweetened & half were savory (hence the two bowls).
There was “fish sauce” (applesauce) to go with the minnows
& my prince had potato salad on the side.

The centerpiece was a plastic fish (cake decorating supplies)
and a bit of plastic evergreen (Christmas decoration)
tucked into a bed of glass pebbles in water tinted with blue food coloring.
The floating candle is a remnant of a mostly-burned-out votive (it didn’t last very long).

The audio ambiance was the cd “Frog Heaven.”

I hung a sign on our bedroom door for good measure:

Before we started, my prince wrestled a cucuzza (edible gourd) out of the tree for me–
no mean feat!
What you see at the bottom of the picture is the tassels of the top of the corn–
and it’s taller than I am!

Seriously–I had no idea the thing would get to the top of the tree!
We’ve got other trellising in the works for next year…

Then the fun commenced :).

My prince started out with a clownfish.  That was ok…

Then I caught a flying fish–and bowled him over :).

He was getting to like this…!

I asked if he wanted to keep the fish or throw them back.
He wanted to know “What’s the difference?”
The difference is whether you can catch them again…
He caught on.
Some of the fish got thrown back a lot!
Not only did that prolong the game, but it gave me a better sense of what he likes
(I’m keeping the details between the two of us!).

My prince didn’t see the dry-erase marker love note on the bathroom mirror
’till the next morning:

I don’t think I’ll get any objections the next time I want to go fishing ;)!

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Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Belaying

The woman climbing the cliff
is a pretty good metaphor for me
in the middle of a sewing project.

I need a belayer!

I need someone at the bottom of the cliff hanging onto my rope,
ready to cinch it tight if I lose my grip. 
I need the security of the tension on the rope
that will catch me before I hit the ground.

I know it doesn’t feel like much,
just standing there,
helplessly watching me struggle
for the next finger-grip or toehold…
but if there’s no belayer,
I don’t dare attempt the climb.

I know what it’s like to fall.

My prince still looks baffled when I exclaim over how much I value the time he spent
just sitting beside me, present, watching while I wrestled with pinning ruffles together;
how much he helped get that skirt to completion
without ever sewing a stitch.

He was belaying me, hanging onto my rope.

The skirt wouldn’t be finished now if he hadn’t.
We’re both glad it is :)!

I don’t think I’m the only one
who needs to not be alone
in the midst of a project that taxes my resources
to their limit.
Maybe it’s a woman thing.
I don’t know.
And when I say “not alone”
I mean that in a very personal sense–
I need someone who’s present to me, aware of me, actively engaged,
even if there’s nothing they can physically do to help
(it reminds me a little of the real definition of active participation in the Mass–
not so much joining the choir or getting up to read,
but rather making the prayer of the Mass your own).
It makes all the difference in the world.

Ladies, does this sound familiar?

Gentlemen, have you tried just being there for your bride when she’s up a cliff,
even if you can’t fix the problem?

Yes, I do have personal experience with rock-climbing.
My high school offered an outdoor recreation class,
complete with climbing wall at the school
and a rock-climbing weekend out of town.
I well know the feeling of falling and hanging from my belayer’s rope!

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Let Your Face Shine

You are the light of the world…
Let your light shine before men
-Matthew 5:14, 16

That begins at home.

You are the light of your Sweetheart’s world.
Let your light shine!

Yes, it does refer to good deeds,
to kindness, patience and all the virtues.
But it has a more literal application too.

The Lord said to Moses,
“Say to Aaron and his sons,
Thus you shall bless the people of Israel:
you shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you:
The Lord make His Face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you:
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
So shall they invoke My Name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them
-Numbers 6:22-27 (emphasis added)

The blessing God extended to His people
was to let His Face shine upon them.
That’s the heart of what we need.
We need someone’s face
to shine upon us–
to light up over us!

You have that light–
better,
you are that light.

You need to shine–
first and foremost, to shine on that beloved soul
the good God has entrusted to you
that you might help him/her get to Heaven!

Your sweetheart needs to see you light up
over him/her
no matter how long you’ve been together.

That doesn’t just happen,
especially as disappointments, hurts and irritations multiply.
That’s why Jesus had to command us to shine.
He knew it wouldn’t always come naturally.

Lighting up is a choice.
It requires a concerted orientation of mind:

your thoughts should be wholly directed
to all that is true, all that deserves respect,
all that is honest, pure, admirable,
decent, virtuous, or worthy of praise.
-Philippians 4:8

Your beloved, however flawed,
is delightful!
Hunt for that delight.
Go deep-sea-diving if you have to
but find it
and dwell on it.

You, of all people,
are the best qualified and the best equipped
to find the treasure God’s hidden in your beloved.

If it helps, imagine what you would miss about him/her
if they got into an accident that day
and never came home (it happens).

Ask God to take you up into His delight in him/her.

Another challenge can be simply getting your sweetheart’s attention.
If they don’t notice you,
they won’t notice that you’re shining
(and it makes it harder to shine…).

Watch for opportunities.
My best time to shine is usually when my prince returns,
when I drop whatever I’m doing to fly into his arms
for a hug and a kiss.

I pull back just enough that I can see his face,
look into his eyes,
and beam!

Sometimes I add three happy little bounces,
just for the fun of it :).

No matter how my day’s gone or how I feel,
that gets the evening off to a good start!

And although we have no children,
so I can’t speak from direct experience,
it makes sense that they need someone’s face to shine on them too!

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Thinking Cap Date

A priest friend recently sent us a couple of logic puzzles he’d devised for our amusement.
In preparation for using them, I cobbled together a couple of “thinking caps”
out of brown paper & masking tape to set the atmosphere
(chuckling to myself that I ought to make “feeling caps” out of something warm & fuzzy
for occasions when emotions aren’t so obvious ;))

My prince chose the puzzle about mushrooms–
trying to pick out a pair based on a series of clues.
Armed with popcorn with our thinking caps on, we dug in,

and after a process of elimination we came down to two pairs.
We couldn’t eliminate either of them.
So…my prince started over with a different method.
We got the same answer.
Finally we checked the “real” answer
and realized we’d been misinterpreting one of the clues.
And that was that for the night.

The next day my prince came home with a sleeve of flowers–
maybe I’d have more success arranging those.

I did :).

How sweet!

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Rubber Ball Marble-Go-Down Date

My creativity was on a low ebb this week. It’d been another rough weekend & I wasn’t sure what would go over well, so I kept things basic. We’d found super balls (party favors) at a dollar store that are actually small enough to fit our marble-go-down (once I propped up the top track a little with a piece of toothpick), so we gave those their “maiden voyage” (with our usual popcorn on the side) after a meal of meatballs.

I liked the colors.

My prince liked the lack of clatter!

The kitties liked the novelty.

Mostly we used the time to talk about our early years & what had worked then to enrich our relationship. My prince lamented our meager social life–which is saying a lot for an introvert! It was God’s timing that not long after a couple we know invited us to stop over at their place for lunch after Mass!

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