Kathyâ€™s parents have been visiting us for the past few days, in a whirlwind of shopping and home improvement projects. Staying only five days, they helped Kathy to select, purchase and install new window blinds and curtains in most of the windows on the ground floor of our home, as well as an assortment of other home projects.
It is always fun to have Mamie and Grandad visit us. They usually stay at a local hotel, and we all split our time between our house and the hotel, where the kids love to swim and pillage the continental breakfast. They often invite a couple of kids to spend the night at the hotel, and a festive air surrounds their visit, devoid of work and school responsibilities. If I can, I take off from work at least a day or two while theyâ€™re here, and we usually eat out at least one or two nights.
Some said the pool was too small, those folks can just sit out for a spell.
One of the things I like best about a visit from Kathyâ€™s folks is the effect it has on my heart toward my wife. Weâ€™ve been married, now, for nearly 17 years, and life is not always roses and Nutella. I notice in myself a tendency to take my wife for granted, and even sometimes an inclination to view her as an obstacle to my selfish pursuits.
When Kathyâ€™s folks come for a visit, they invariably seek to be a blessing to her in some tangible way. Cindy takes her clothes-shopping, and Bill busies himself repairing and improving our home. They so obviously love and cherish their daughter, striving to please and delight their firstborn and only daughter. I find myself seeing her in a new light, competitively not wanting to be left out.
It’s never easy saying goodbye. The fog hides our tears.
It is times like this that I remember that Kathy is â€˜myâ€™ wife in the sense that she was entrusted to me, not like â€˜my carâ€™ or â€˜my shoesâ€™ as a possession or piece of property. In good faith, Bill and Cindy gave their blessing to our union, handing her off to me at the altar. I’m sure they had the expectation that I would love, protect and encourage their daughter, that I would promote her spiritual growth, and would lay down my life for her as we raise our family together. I really like being reminded of the promises I made when we were wed, in the presence of God and so many witnesses.
We watched the Fireproof movie last night, recently purchased from Amazon as soon as it became available. At one point in the story, the husband discovers that one of his wifeâ€™s co-workers is trying to win her heart. He visits the man in his office, and puts him on notice: â€œI know what youâ€™re doing,â€ he challenges, â€œ â€¦ I know youâ€™re trying to win my wifeâ€™s heart. I know Iâ€™ve made some mistakes, but I still love her, and since Iâ€™m married to her, I think that gives me an advantage.â€
Kathyâ€™s parents and I are not locked in a competitive struggle for Kathyâ€™s heart, but it is good for me to see the way they love her and to be challenged to â€˜take it up a notchâ€™ myself.
I often brag at what a wonderful mother-in-law I have.
Last summer I had the opportunity to take on a side project for an association of physicians based in Switzerland. With Kathyâ€™s gentle
prodding encouragement, I finally finished the project and (after a few delays) was generously paid for my work. I told her that, after deducting tithe, expenses and taxes, we would split the money 50/50, to be placed in our â€˜Unaccountableâ€™ budget accounts.
At first Kathy was reluctant. â€œShouldnâ€™t we spend that money on debt reduction?â€ she questioned. â€œDave Ramsey says that we should put every extra bit of money toward reducing our debt.â€ We both bowed toward Financial Peace Plaza in Franklin, TN, mecca to Dave Ramsey groupies everywhere.
A wistful longing flickered in her eyes. Sticking to a budget (or even mostly sticking to a budget) these past 10 months has been very hard for both of us.
â€œYou can spend your half on reducing the debt if you like,â€ I said, ruthlessly. â€œBut Iâ€™m spending mine on something fun.â€
I buried myself in computer catalogs and began to gleefully spend my half on cool devices that come in foam-padded boxes. Kathy didnâ€™t say a word about how she was going to spend her new riches, and I pondered this in my heart.
When her parents arrived, she leapt into action. â€œWeâ€™re going to Lowes to pick out some window treatments,â€ she announced on Saturday. Soon she returned with new wooden blinds, curtain rods and a variety of curtains, and the home decorating project began. Cindy contributed some new pillows, and Bill jumped into action installing the blinds and curtain rods, a loving gift of service that consumed much of his remaining visit time. Kathy agonized over each element of the redecorating effort, encouraged and supported by her mom.
At one point, Kathy asked me, â€œHow much do you think Iâ€™ve spent on this?â€ She likes to play these kind of guessing games to gently ease me into shocking expenses. My guess was less than a fourth of what she spent, but I was too cagey to admit it.
When I finally discovered how much it all cost, I opened my mouth.
â€œWhat a waste of money,â€ I thundered. â€œYou could have bought a really nice [insert electronic device here] for that kind of dough,â€ I wailed.
I closed my mouth on those words before they escaped my lips, grinding them carefully between my teeth and twisting my lips into the semblance of a smile. â€œHow fun,â€ I squeaked, schooling my face into a positive expression. â€œDo you like the new blinds and curtains?â€
â€œArenâ€™t you upset at how much I spent?â€ Kathy asked me.
â€œNope,â€ I assured her, regaining my composure. â€œThatâ€™s why it is called â€˜Kathyâ€™s Unaccountable Moneyâ€™. You donâ€™t have to give account for it, it is yours to spend, any way you like.â€
Rachel and Grandad steal a hug.
Warming to my lecture in the presence of my oldest son, I heard myself continue: â€œPeople value different things, differently. It is foolish for me to expect that you would want to buy computers or Nutella (although you couldâ€™ve bought at least a small jar) â€“ you get your joy from making our home look pretty. I know youâ€™ve waited a long time to do this, and you and the kids are here at home for a good part of every day, if this is how you want to spend your money, then why should I complain?â€
I was amazed at the reasonable sound of my own voice. Who was this wise husband, spouting such words with hardly a grimace or twitch?
I checked my heart. Resentment? Nope. As I spoke, the words had become true.
There are things that are the same for everyone; moral standards, for example; if you steal, it is just exactly as bad as when I steal. Our skin color or economic condition have no effect on the morality — sin is sin, no matter who does it. But some things are relative, even between like-minded people, and the way people spend money seems often to fall in this second list. Your â€˜wastefulâ€™ expenditures may seem â€˜foolishâ€™ or â€˜poor stewardshipâ€™ to me, yet (assuming the money is not borrowed or stolen) it may really come down to a value judgment. I may deplore your taste, but I am foolish if I try to claim moral high ground over you in a matter of style.
I am especially cognizant of the need not to throw stones as I think about the way I spend my money.
Another lovely visit (if too short) with Mamie and Grandad.
The curtains and blinds look very sophisticated and pretty, in our living room. I hope that they are pleasing to Kathyâ€™s eye for as long as necessary for her to feel she got â€˜good valueâ€™ out of them, whatever that means in this context. I figure I’ve already got my money’s worth out of ‘em, if I can only internalize my own teaching.