This morning, I was in a heavier-hearted, contemplative mood. It's Friday, and a bright, crisp, sunny one, at that-- it was 18 degrees with not a cloud in the sky as I took out the trash this morning. TJ asked me why it was so cold, and I told him that it's because it's winter now, and pointed out that all the trees had lost all of their leaves. He beamed with delight as he inspected the trees and felt the cold creep in as he stood in the shelter of the garage while I did trash duty. He's really taking in the changing of the seasons this year, and as much as he was awe-stricken with the beautiful colors of autumn, he's REALLY pumped up about winter. Snow and Christmas are 2 of his favorite things.
This little exchange, the beautiful sunrise, and the fact that it's Friday should have been enough to free my heart a little, on any other such occasion. But as I said, it wasn't so today. First off, I'm sick, now. Sinus infection or something-- perhaps the bug that TJ had last week, minus the fever. But as I said, my mind was awhirl and my heart just felt... heavy. The prayers just didn't jump out of my chest the way they typically do, during my morning shower. My mind wasn't as clear. Maybe it was the sinus infection... or maybe we all just have mornings like that, from time to time. Leslie had those mornings every day-- she was admittedly NOT a morning person. :)
After taking out the trash, I packed TJ (sleepy-eyed and paci-faced, donning his warm and wooly blue footed pajamas under his winter coat) into the car seat, threw a change of clothes for him in the passenger seat, and took off for Dana's house, where he was to play today. I stopped, of course, at Caribou, where I'm something of a regular. (It's kind of like Bolingbrook's own little "Central Perk" scene, for those Friends fans out there.) After spending 5-10 minutes making my rounds through the crowded little cafe', saying hello to the people I've come to know there, (including the pretty barista behind the counter), and chatting with Pastor Ronn who was there preparing his sermon for Sunday, I ordered our favorites: a large depth charge for me (that's a regular coffee with 2 shots of espresso added to it) (I don't mess around when it comes to my morning caffeine), and a blueberry muffin for TJ. Only... they were out of the blueberry muffins today. This made TJ quite sad, and his cute and cuddly cheeriness which previously had everyone in the place going "ga-ga" over him began to fade into the whiney "grumps". I was just thinking to myself, "I should've just got in, got out, and got back on the road. Cut with the socializing and just get him to Dana's. Now I'm losing him, and he's going to make a scene." I hastily ordered a piece of coffee cake for him instead-- they had free samples out at the register, and I had given one to TJ, and he said he liked it-- assuming that coffee cake was better than nothing. But apparently, that turned out to be a bad idea, because as the barista handed me TJ's coffee cake, he plunged further into his grumpiness-- now heading full-bore toward a melt-down. Pretty Barista, in a compassionate effort to help a needy customer, said that they had just received some more blueberry muffins, but that they were still in the freezer, and then offered to have one heated up. At that point, I knew that there was no changing the momentum of TJ's mood, and it was just a matter of time until we reached melt-down status, so I just politely declined, then thanked her, grabbed our treats, and bolted for the exit. Indeed, we reached melt-down status just as we were pushing out the glass door of Caribou, back into the cold parking lot. As I was trying to console him, reason with him, scold him, encourage him, and throw every trick in the book at him in order to get him buckled back into his seat so I could resume the prolonged Friday morning commute, I was just overwhelmed with second-guessing and self-doubt. This was the scenario that my heavy heart had been anticipating since I rolled out of bed before sunrise. "What am I DOING to this boy? This is just so hard on him. This is not fair to him. He needs a mommy. I need a partner. I can't do this alone. He should be able to be at home in his PJ's with a sippy cup right now. He should be waking up in the same bed every morning, and sleeping in that same bed every nap time. He needs to be able to hold the same neck and cuddle with the same arms-- the same smells, the same voice soothing him." (... and so-on.)
The struggle in my heart and head morphed into prayer, wherein I once again gave it all up to our Father... placing even TJ (the HARDEST thing for me to "give up to Him") back safely in the palm of His hands. "I know you can't do it yourself," I heard that familiar whisper on my soul. "But I can. In your weakness, I am made strong. I am not only providing for you, but I am providing for your boy, as well." (... and so-on.)
I'm doing much better with it now. TJ's having a great day at Dana's with his cousins. I'm abiding, once again contented with His manna. And all that stuff. Please don't feel the need to write me an encouraging response about how great I'm doing or whatever. I need to just be able to "deal" with my insecurity and weakness honestly, without feeling like I'm fishing for complements or a hearty slap on the back.
As this post's title foreshadows, all of this morning's adventures got me thinking quite a bit about a certain 800 lb. gorilla that's been in this room-- this "next chapter" of my life. I've been ashamed to come out and think about it out loud until just recently, but the more I bounce ideas off friends and family, the more I realize it's on everyone else's mind, as well-- and in fact, has been for quite some time. The 800 lb. gorilla is this: What about our future? What about a new "mommy" figure for TJ? What about a wife for me? Okay, so I might be getting ahead of myself, but I'm to the point in this "process" where I can admit that the thought crosses my mind... in fact, almost daily. If that's too bitter of a pill to swallow, I can soften it a bit and put the question out there in this way: "What does that 'dating' process look like, for a person in my situation?"
Now, if you're a newcomer to this blog, I encourage you to read through the last few months to see just how I loved my Leslie-- how she will NEVER be "replaced", how she will always be "my better half", how no woman will ever be Mommy for TJ the way she is, and how our family and I are coming to dwell in peace on the thought of her eternal healing and completion-- as our friends Anna and Leah sang at her memorial services, on Leslie's behalf, "I'm in better hands, now". So I proceed on this topic with caution, knowing that there are family and friends who visit this blog to check in, who also loved and miss Leslie deeply. I guess I submit myself to your mercy and compassionate understanding, hoping that you are easily reminded of what you know of me, how you knew our marriage, and how we loved each other. This topic does not negate any of that. It is what it is-- all part of "living without her". (In case you're wondering, I've already had these conversations with her immediate family, so it's not like I'm dropping a bomb on family dynamics here.) :)
I thought for a minute about being devious and falsely announcing to the world that Pretty Barista and I have a date on Saturday night. But that's just not the case. I am, in fact, not yet at a place in my life where I could commit the time, effort, and concentration that would be required of me in order to pursue a "dating" relationship. My saying this should be of no surprise to anyone-- and perhaps even a relief to most of you. (Certainly Pretty Barista would be most relieved to know this... I'm rather sure she doesn't read this blog, though. Crap... I hope she doesn't... Maybe I'd better think twice before posting this...) You'll note that I mention the pursuit of a "'dating' relationship", here, and not this notion of entering the "dating scene". Which brings me to my first point on the topic:
I've long since kissed [casual] dating goodbye.
This is just a clever little play on a book title that hit the Christian singles market in the 90's-- one that, to this day, makes me cringe. But regardless of my opinion of the book, the stark reality is that before Leslie and I started hanging out, in that glorious Fall of 2000, I had come to a point in my life where I'd basically had enough with "dating" in general. Casual dating brought out the worst in me, it seemed. It distracted me from my priorities, from my pursuit of God, from living as I wanted to live. In fact, I had declared an indefinite hiatus from the dating scene, just a couple months before Leslie and I started hanging out. (It was never my intent to "date" her-- in fact, I was certain, going into that proverbial first chat over coffee, that she and I would never ever "work", in that dating sense, due to how we DIDN'T get along in college.) (Another story, another time, perhaps.) Anyway, I dated quite a few girls-- a couple quite seriously-- back in the day... high school, college, after college. All were rather "intentional", as far as casual dating goes-- I never dated a girl who wasn't a Christian, or someone I couldn't at least consider being with indefinitely. But the truth be told, I just knew so LITTLE about these women, at that point of our first dates. And it takes so much time and effort to get to know someone, especially when your truest exposure to their personality is in the "dating" realm-- I mean, let's just face it... no matter how "casual" it is, that's a pretty intense situation, on a lot of levels.
All this rambling to make this point: I have learned through my life experience (especially the last year of it) that I am not-- nor will I ever be-- interested in "casually dating" anybody. When I am ready to date, don't be expecting me to just ride a wave of adrenaline-laced confidence and ask the Pretty Barista out for a Saturday night. Sure, she's a very sweet and attractive young lady... but that's basically all I know of her. Well, that, and the fact that she serves a mean depth charge. And while a pretty face and access to an endless supply of caffeine might be a good start-- a VERY good start, even-- I'm going to have to have more to go on that that. My time with TJ and our life and our home and my "ministry" are just too valuable to go whittling away time, just to "get to know someone", or to look at a pretty face for an evening. Sure, "dating" can be fun-- it can be a wonderful way to stroke the egos a little, have some good laughs, feel somewhat desired and cared for. But is "a little fun" worth my time away from these other things? Is it worth spending more time away from TJ?? (Those are rhetorical questions. We all know the answer.)
And on that topic, that brings me to my next very crucial point:
When I start dating, I'm not just looking for a friend. I'm not merely looking for a wife. I'm looking for a mother for TJ.
Well, if any eligible candidates weren't scared away before, they certainly are now! :) (By the way-- as an aside... I DO NOT welcome any gestures or covert suggestions at set-ups, blind dates, phone numbers, etc... at this juncture. Just thought I'd preemptively strike, on that one. When it is time, in God's eyes, I feel the right opportunity will be right under my nose.)
But seriously, to this crucial point... A big part of the "dating" process will be seeing TJ and this new woman interact. One important facet of this will be my and TJ's time alone, away from this new woman, just talking about her, getting to know his thoughts and feelings on the whole idea. He is my #1 thing. My prioirty. My life. He is the one person with "veto power", as far as I'm concerned. My own little 3-year-old president elect-- unknowingly preparing to set up in his new digs in our metaphoric Oval Office.
CONCLUSION/ WRAP-UP: (for now...)
Our life is not ready for me to date. But to be honest, my heart and mind are much closer to ready than I'd ever imagined they could be. I'm by no means in a hurry, but I look forward to the prospect of dating with a mixed bag of emotions: excitement and apprehension; patience and anticipation; a burden of protection for TJ's heart and my own heart's desire to again be known; clinging to Leslie and intrigue with this person God might be praparing for us. These things I turn over to God daily. And I know that He will provide, and I pray His timing, wisdom, will, and blessing will be known. But when that time comes for me to pursue somebody... it won't be just somebody. I'm not wasting my time on just somebody. She will need to be a person I know well enough that I am able to see her potentially being TJ's mommy. I will need to know going in to our "first date" that I could potentially love her as my wife. And she would have to be willing to love all the "Leslie parts" of me-- my "better half"-- just like she would love the rest of me. Gee... as I'm re-reading these "criteria", I'm realizing what a tall order this is for a person. God bless her! It will indeed take a miraculous act of God for such an opportunity to present itself... but if or when God presents it, I will be ready. And when that opportunity presents itself-- much like I was with Leslie, once I became aware of my feelings for her, (later in that year of 2000)-- I will be intentional yet unassuming. And it will be Christ-centered. And there will be nothing casual about it.