My Family, My Priority

“I am a loving husband and involved father, who places my family above all other relationships in my life.”

So goes one of the key “statement of truth” affirmations I have written on a post it and hung in my bath room mirror. One of at least three that I read each and every day, have now memorized, and am finding out that there are sorts of situations in life where reminding of me of that statement makes a decision much more black and white.

This week in my coaching experience I am exploring my family life development. As I walked through the initial survey, I found more positive things than I presumed I might. I’ve heard over and over and over again that “time” is perhaps the best thing thing you can offer your family, and it seems to be one of the things I have tremendous opportunities to offer my family, either because of “must do” types of things each day (i.e. feed the baby) or “can do” things, such as the rather flexible schedule I have that allows me to work at home a couple days a week and cut out an hour and a half of commuting time each day. What I found myself asking, though, was something along the lines of, “even though I have all these opportunities, am I taking advantage of them to their fullest?” As I explored that, I believe what I’m finding is what I’ve found in many other areas of my life… I have great opportunities, but for the most part, I spuratically take advantage of those opportunities. I don’t have too many established habits, although there are some, and even though they may “seem” small, I think they are probably much greater than I’d allow myself to think. Things like:

  • I have gone for 11 years of marriage without a TV in my bedroom. It has provided the opportunity for numerous conversations that could otherwise have been zoned out or cut short by the evening news or weather. While not an end-all solution in itself, I can’t deny the impact this decision, and stick with it, have had.
  • I eat dinner with my family every day of the year. Well, not every day. But probably at least 300 – 325 meals a year. Whether it’s gathered around the kitchen table, cramped into the car in a parking lot wolfing down sandwiches, or a special night at the park, spending this time together matters. I don’t think it matters if there is a specified agenda to discuss or a rule that we can or can’t have the TV on… again, it’s the time that matters. What I wonder, though, is how this will “stick” or become more of an effort or forced occasion as our kids grow up. I don’t exactly want a Leave it to Beaver existance, but at the same time, I want my kids and wife to know what is important to me, and to know why. And I suppose that means I should make sure I know that as well.
  • I go to bed at the same time as my wife. This one’s caused some headaches… literally. I love opportunities to get my sleep in and start my day before the first hint of dawn, and my wife makes a great night owl. I enjoy the night life too, but there are those days when you know your morning will suffer if you stay up late, and that the only reason your staying up late on that particular day is because of something you’re really not personally invested in. I’ve given my wife a hard time on it, almost forced her to go to bed without me sometimes when she (or I) is sick or something, but again, for the most part, this is an unwritten rule in our home. And I should probably quit fighting it and recognize it for what it is: a blessing. I know many families that don’t even have the opportunity for this type of shared life with their spouse because of work or other obligations. I also know families who consider it quite normal to fall asleep in the chair and wake up in the middle of the night, TV muted, and spouse in the opposite corner of the house, in bed, alone.
  • My family has gone on several adventures together. Whether it’s a week long trip to Disney or our first roadtrip with the second child, we’ve done a lot together. There are some freedoms we haven’t achieved or made happen yet, such as a two week vacation or one completely free of the business email check or cell phone… but in all honesty, I think we do a lot together. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but as I look into the future, I don’t want to sell ourselves short. Besides vacations, we’ve ventured into horse ownership and mini-farm / garden adventures together, for example.
  • My wife and are committed to our marriage, and we’ve seen that commitment tested. Trials will come. So will tests. Whether they are by outside forces pressing in or personal failures and weaknesses raising their ugly head, all these pictures of a nice little world, including the white picket fence around the front yard, will be put to the test. We’ve been down this road. We’ve seen how close a family can come to falling apart, and the critical decisions at critical moments when it really is do or die, make or break.

All those good things considered… Where are we? Where do we want to go? Having dinner together, going to bed together, or not watching TV in the bedroom are good and dandy, but WHY? What is the bigger story they’re part of? What do I want to accomnplish with my family?

The “Where are we” question is a good one to start with. I think we have a lot of good habits, but we’ve probably got our share of bad ones as well. For myself, things like body language, looks, and sarcasm that I give without consideration to how it will come across can become a big blow to those I love most. The same could be true with plain worn-out-edness from work at the end of the day, and coming home to a wife who is also worn our from her more-than-full-time job of being a mother. As I look into the future, I see how coming up with specific things that I, and we, want to accomplish as a family will help us find the push through those hard times, as well as the motivation for the bigger things in life.

So what are some categories of goals I’d like to accomplish with and through my family? Here are a few, based on what I’ve considered recently, as well as a brief look back through my ever-increasing dream inventory:

  • Reach out to kids without a stable home environment through love and hope.
  • Develop an intentional use of time together each day so that all recognize it’s value.
  • Take a two week vacation to a place far, far away.
  • Develop methods to better “leave work at work”, both during the week and on vacation.
  • Plan our future together – short and long term – money, time, goals, etc.
  • Be a couple known for listening, understanding, and even giving counsel to other couples and/or teens.
  • Spend more planned time one-on-one with my wife.
  • See my children come to know (and be known by), love (and be loved by), and serve their Creator.
  • Develop regular one-on-one activities with my children.
  • Encourage my children to find and pursue their dreams, even at an early age.
  • Encourage and help my wife find/rediscover and pursue her dreams, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.
  • Understand my own need for personal discovery, and recognize that each of us will have to make some journeys on our own.

I believe the next step I’ll be doing here later on this week is coming up with some actual goals and steps to pursue and achieve some of these areas I’d like to see us accomplish as a family. So I’ll probably be coming back to this shortly. But for now, that’s us, where we are, and some of the places I’d love to see us go.

This was originally written in September of 2010, but I’m bubbling it back to the top as it’s still sooo important to me.

Being a father and saving your child's life

slider - mak on a tractorWell, that was an expedition! Took my two kids into town today for some work at our church as we prep for a week of VBS with some tweens followed by lunch and a shopping trip. How my wife does things like this on a daily basis, I hope to never know (although being able to understand and appreciate it would be nice). “Crazy” comes nowhere near an accurate description, even though the kids were, I think, on pretty good behavior. There’s just so MUCH to be watching out for. MaKenna more than anything. She either has to be lugged around the store in my arms (which gets heavy), walking around on her own (with things she thinks I need to buy calling her name), or parked in the cart asking when she can be released to one of the other two spots.

I wouldn’t trade this day for anything, though. I came home to a house not all that different than when I left, except for the smell of cooked cabbage (which is not something I am tremendously fond of). The thing is, though, that smell meant that my wife had had about 5-6 hours of time on her own to do something she hopefully enjoyed without the “routine” of crazy that is our family (self included, I suppose).

It’s almost been 14 years of marriage here at the Cromer household, with over half of that invested in the lives of our kids and others who have temporarily lived in our home. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

On a side but related note – it breaks my heart to no end to see fathers throw this away. To toss their family to the curb because they’ve fallen out of love or can’t take it anymore. To run off for a new adventure and leave those who thought they were just getting started alone and bewildered, wondering where they stand. Those left behind can certainly move on, but you really never “get over” that type of thing, do you? You can get through it and become a much better person, but to be honest, you still kinda sorta get your hopes up (for what, I don’t know), only to have the realities of character and changed priorities smack you against the rocks again.

Such is crazy. Such is life. One of my statements of truth hanging on my bathroom mirrors states that I will be (and that I am becoming) a man quick to apologize and even quicker to forgive. A man who will find the best in people and assume that those who say they love me truly do, regardless of those blips that make you cringe.

Anyways… yeah, THAT was a rabbit trail. On ANOTHER, more exciting, side note, I’ve discovered that my daughter likes to call me her father. Not “just” her daddy (which rocks, of course), but somewhere, she picked up this “Father” word. Probably from Father’s day, and it will probably be gone before I know it, but I’ll bask in it while she can. She also says things like “You saved my life!” These, along with her fondness for snuggling up in my recliner, are just a few of the reasons I simply love having a daughter at this stage of life. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

 

The Charm Bracelet I’d Love to Give My Daughter Someday

I absolutely love this story and want to incorporate something like it into my daughter’s life.

I ran across this here, but wanted to keep a good copy for myself.

The Charm Bracelet

Taken from the April 2008 Brio and Beyond Magazine:

By: Sarah Kistler

Sweet 16 had finally come! I never thought I’d make it. But I did. And it was amazing. My parents threw the birthday party of the century, and I had more people than I could count. The whole day had been awesome. But as I watched the sun begin to set, I knew the best part was soon to come.

It was late in the evening. Confetti had been swept up, helium balloons had started to sag and gift wrap had been folded neatly and tucked away for my mom’s later use. As I sad at my window studying the dusky sky, Dad peeked into the room with a smile.

“Ready to go, Sweetie?” he asked.

Was that a trick question? I wondered as I scrambled to my feet. I’d been waiting for this night for five long years, and it was finally here! I was now officially allowed to date!

The plan was for my parents and me to go to my favorite restaurant on the night of my 16th birthday and officiate the agreement, go over standards and discuss rules and such. And now we were finally on our way.

I sat across from my parents in a quiet corner booth. Having just placed our orders, I figured it was time to get on with it. “So. I can go out with any guy I want to, right?” I squealed, hardly able to contain my excitement.

Mom and Dad chucked. Dad answered, “Well, we agreed to that, didn’t we?”

“Sweet!” I exclaimed, doing a little victory dance in my seat. My parents had held me off for years, but now that the time had come, they would let me date any guy I wanted! Of course they knew I had a good relationship with God and wasn’t too short on common sense, either.

“Now wait just a second,” Mom interrupted with a smile. “You have to agree to a little something yourself.”

I was expecting a lecture of some sort, so I was already prepared. “So what do I have to do now?” I asked, leaning forward on my elbows.

“Just open this,” Dad answered, producing a small white box. He gave a mysterious smile.

I hesitated a moment before removing the curly pink ribbon. I slowly opened the lid and saw a beautiful silver bracelet. But not just any bracelet. It was a charm bracelet. And they weren’t just any charms. They were gemstones, small but gorgeous. A dozen dainty charms dangled gently.

“Wow.” I didn’t know what else to say. I wasn’t expecting this at all.

“Now you have to understand this isn’t just any bracelet,” Mom informed me.

“I know,” I said. “It’s so beautiful!” I studied it closer. There were six small charms alternating with tinier ones. The smaller ones were deep blue. Sapphires, I guessed. And the other six were each different. One appeared to be just a rock, one was pink, a white one, a red one, green… and was that a diamond?

“This charm bracelet is symbolic,” Dad explained, leaning in closer to study it with me. “It represents you and your purity. This is what will guide you through your dating relationships. Your mother and I can only tell you what’s right. We can’t make you believe it yourself. Hopefully, this will.”

I looked up solemnly. “I’m listening.”

“This represents the first time you hold a guy’s hand,” Mom said, pointing to the gray one. “It’s just a piece of polished granite. Seemingly cheap, yes, but it’s still a part of your bracelet. This is pink quartz.” She gently rubbed the next one between her fingers. “It represents your first kiss.”

“This green one is an emerald,” Dad continued. “This is your first boyfriend. The pearl is the first time you say ‘I love you’ to a man other than me.”

I giggled. This was so amazing.

“The ruby stands for your first engagement. And the diamond represents the first time you say ‘I do,'” Mom finished.

After letting it all sink in, I cleared my emotion-clogged throat. “What do the six tiny sapphires stand for?” I asked.

“Those are to remind you how beautiful and valuable you are to us and to God,” Dad replied. “Now here’s the hitch in all this, the only and only rule you’ll ever have to follow when it comes to dating.”

Only one rule. Sounded good. But little did I know…

“Whenever you give one of these actions of love- a kiss, an ‘I love you’, a hand to hold- you also have to give the recipient the gem to match.”

I must’ve misunderstood. “I have to give him the gem?”

“You have to give it to him,” Mom restated.

I was silent for a moment. I thought they must be joking. But they weren’t even thinking of cracking a smile.

“But Daddy!” I suddenly shrieked. “These are insanely expensive! I can’t just give them away!”

He gave a soft, loving chuckle, “Did you hear what you just said?”

I thought about it.

“Baby, your purity, your heart, they’re far more valuable than a few little rocks. If you can’t find it in your heart to give away your little charms, I don’t think you should be giving away the things they represent.”

I could feel my insides melting, ready to gush out of my tear ducts. One the one hands, it made me feel valuable and precious. But on the other, it made me furious. It made no sense. But it would.

A few weeks after that night, I was hanging out with my friends at the beach. Chad wouldn’t swim because I wouldn’t swim. I was more interested in reading than getting caked with sand, and he was more interested in sitting with me than swimming with his buddies. He was sweet. He was cute. And he tried to hold my hand.

I was thrilled for a nanosecond when a certain piece of ugly granite flashed through my mind and made me move out of his reach. I was severely annoyed- annoyed at my parents, annoyed at my bracelet-turned-handcuffs, but most of all, annoyed at myself. I was letting a little rock dominate my romantic life.

I furiously glared at it during the whole embarrassing walk to the bathhouse. But then God hit me upside the head with shocking epiphany. I couldn’t give up my little chunk of granite. It was part of my bracelet, which in a sense made it a part of me. I wouldn’t be whole without it. It wasn’t a priceless gem, yet it was still valuable. It made sense after that.

Kevin came along eventually. We had fun. we hung out a lot. I thought I might love him. I thought I might tell him so. I thought of my pearl. It turned out that I didn’t love him as much as I thought I did.

So my parents had been right. They couldn’t make me believe the thins they wanted me to believe. So they let God and my bracelet do the work instead. Among the four of them, I figured out how valuable I was. How valuable my purity was. How not valuable guys were who just wanted my time and emotions. If they weren’t in it for the whole bracelet, why should they get one part of it?

Nate. He thought my bracelet was awesome. So he never tried to hold my hand. He never tried to kiss me. But he asked me to marry him.

I never knew that so many years of torture could amount to so much happiness. I’d thought it was silly. I’d thought it was overrated. But now, I’ve never been more glad of anything in my life. As I gave my husband the charm bracelet in its entirety, I wondered why I had found it so hard to hang on to those little rocks when it was amazing to give them all to the man I truly loved.

But it didn’t end there. Now our daughter wears it.