Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

I heard the news that a young couple in our community is getting a divorce after only one year of marriage. What went wrong? All I know is this is a tragedy. I remember the wedding announcement we received with their bright smiling faces, their eyes so filled with love for each other.

Being silly at Lucy's birthday party!

Being silly at Lucy’s birthday party!

I want to tell them, “Don’t give up! Your story isn’t over yet.” In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say: “Don’t give up 5 minutes before the miracle.” Sometimes 5 minutes can seem like an eternity, but when the miracle comes, you don’t want to miss it.

My husband Randy and I are celebrating our 45th wedding anniversary in a few weeks. When I look back, I remember the tough times we faced in our marriage. It seemed hopeless. Struggling with Randy’s alcoholism loomed like a never-ending problem with few solutions. In retrospect, it was 5 minutes. The miracle of Randy’s sobriety and the years we’ve enjoyed since then, have truly been a miracle worth waiting for.

Life Lessons From a Dog Named Kramer

I knew the day was coming, but I didn’t expect it to arrive so soon. “Soon” is relative, because 15 years can seem like a long time or pass by in a blink. It’s the blink side6 I’m experiencing today. We said goodbye to our faithful canine friend, Kramer, two days ago. The years had taken their toll and Randy and I couldn’t bear to watch him struggle. Nights had become nearly impossible. Kramer paced incessantly through the house, getting stuck behind furniture or in corners, not seeing well enough to find his way out. Our hearts ache as we try to adjust to life without him. Anyone who has had a long-term relationship with a dog will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Kramer came into our lives on a July day in 2000, just before our 30th wedding anniversary. We drove two hours to the breeder’s home. We’d planned to only “take a look” at the Jack Russell Terrier puppy who bounded up to meet us. It was love at first lick. And then we were driving home with the unexpected 3-month old pup passenger curled up on my lap. We decided he was our anniversary gift to each other.

And what a gift he’s been! Our lives were turned upside down and our hearts inside out with love for this little guy who we christened as “Kramer.” He needed a Hollywood name since Randy and I owned a video store in our small town. Every day, Randy packed up Kramer and his puppy paraphernalia and took him to our store, much to the delight of our customers. “Is Kramer in today?” they’d ask expectantly.

When Kramer turned one year old, we celebrated with a party at the store. Kramer secretly told me he wanted a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting which was a big hit with his guests. They brought dog biscuit gifts and even called on the phone to wish him a happy day.

Kramer enjoyed stardom in our town’s annual ’49ers Days Parade. We drove the parade route in Randy’s old ’89 Lincoln Town Car festooned with Kramer banners and balloons. Children lining the one street through town squealed, “Look, there’s Kramer!” Randy and I tried not to let it get us down that no one seemed to notice us.

As we grieve our loss, I’m reminded of how much we learned from Kramer’s terrier traits.

  • Live every moment to the fullest!  Kramer lived at”turbo speed,” throwing himself wholeheartedly into  quests for chasing chipmunks, digging holes to hunt for mice, or attacking the garden hose while we attempted to water the plants or wash the car.
  • Don’t ever give up!  We marveled at Kramer’s tenacity and what one small dog could accomplish. One day, he was intent on capturing a chipmunk that was hiding in an irrigation pipe. “Great,” we thought. Kramer was occupied and we didn’t have to worry about him for a while. Only problem was that after several hours of tussling with the pipe, he literally wore off the black part of his nose! Our vet assured us it would grow back.
  • Love without stopping! What we’ll miss most is having this sweet dog with bright brown eyes filled with pure love, greet us at the end of every work day. No matter what kind of day we’d had, it was always better because Kramer was there to welcome us home.

I can’t help but think that God sent him to us at a time when we most needed him. As Randy and I stood by his grave the other day, I realized how far we had come in 15 years. We had learned volumes about what really matters, the value of persevering, and how to love each other well. In this sad moment, we had leaned into the pain together. We stood with arms draped around each other, praying a farewell prayer to our faithful friend. Even though our lives will never be the same, we are grateful for God’s special anniversary gift to us and memories to last the rest of our lives.

I’m looking forward to being the Keynote speaker at this event!

Date: March 14, 2015
Time: 09:00 a.m.-02:00 p.m.
Event: Olympic Cluster Spring Celebration
Topic: "Bear One Another's Burdens"
Venue: Christ Lutheran Church
Location: Belfair, WA
Public: Private

God’s Extravagant Love

Before Christmas, my boss and his wife treated my co-workers and me  to an afternoonExtravagant_0 of extravagance. Each of us was pampered with a massage, facial and manicure. As I lay on the massage table having the yummiest-smelling creams applied to my face, I suddenly felt overcome with emotion. This is pure extravagance, I thought. Something we as women don’t often treat ourselves to–especially all in one afternoon! Tears welled up and one escaped down my cheek. I hoped the aesthetician hadn’t noticed. It wasn’t just the spa treatments that got me teary, but  reflecting on God’s extravagant love.

What I’ve Learned through a Lifetime of Marriage

My husband Randy and I recently celebrated 44 years of marriage.

Our anniversary celebration at Steak ‘N Shake

Wow–how can that be possible when we’re only 30+ years old? Well… we haven’t been that age for a long time, but it’s still hard to imagine we’ve spent most of a lifetime together.

When we first got married, I had this naive notion that all we needed was love. All together now: All you need is love. Da…da…da…da… da…When I hear those words, I automatically want to burst into song. Never mind about the misunderstandings and the immaturity of two 19 year-olds who are going to become parents before their first anniversary. As long as we have love, we will stay together. Wasn’t that also a song? Love will keep us together. If only it were that simple.

We do need love, but not the kind Hollywood portrays or most of us envision. I remember seeing the movie Love Story with Randy when we were dating. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw (can you believe she’s 75?) looked deeply into each other’s eyes and proclaimed, Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

How sweet (and unrealistic) is that? But that’s the love I was looking for…where romantic feelings never fade and you sail off together as best friends and lovers without a disagreement or ever raising your voice or crying yourself to sleep.

After 44 years and weathering many marital ups and downs, I’ve learned a lot about real-life relationships:

  • There’s no such thing as 50/50 in marriage. Many times you’ll be the one giving more than you bargained for. It would be nice if everything were split neatly in half. The reality is that each of you will be called on at different times to give more than your share. It’s also good not to keep score.
  • Recognize the myth of the greener grass. It’s possible there is “greener grass,” but many of us see the grass and want to vault over the fence without considering the costs. The repercussions of an affair are devastating for everyone. Two families are directly affected, as well as extended family and friends. Life is never the same after trust in a marriage has been broken. God can heal and bring reconciliation, but the price paid is excruciatingly high.
  • Love the one you’re with. What would happen if you intentionally treated your spouse as if you really loved him/her? Not the Love Story type of love, but love that’s patient, kind, steadfast in sickness and in health, in good times and bad times. God’s kind of love that never fails.

Randy and I have been blessed to experience this love in our marriage. It didn’t come naturally, though. It took a lot of pain and struggle and heartache. We both realized the ability to love well was only possible if we were willing to get beyond our selfishness. As we experienced God’s grace, we were then able to begin to love each other unconditionally. Not perfectly, but in a way that says I want the best for you. I’m willing to do whatever I can to encourage you, to build you up, to help you become the person God created you to be.

And guess what? I found out I married the right guy– the one who has been God’s gift to me for almost a lifetime. And yes, we’ve learned that saying you’re sorry is at the top of the list!

If you’re struggling to love your spouse, there is hope! Small acts of kindness can be a good starting place. I would love to pray with you and encourage you to believe that God’s love never fails. 

Interested in reading more about marriage? Check out these similar posts:

Marriage Advice for Wives: 5 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Got Married

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on Your Marriage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raise the White Flag!

I called my homeless brother yesterday. I only wanted to say that I love him. He couldn’t hear that. He thought I was trying to intervene, judging him. He told me his life is miserable, the party’s over–not that there ever was a party, I thought. I tried to interject hope into his hopeless comments.

You don’t have to do this alone, I said. But he couldn’t hear me in his deafness to allow anyone to help him. I’m going to recover on my own, he insisted. I don’t need anyone to help me.

My heart aches for him. I’ve walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn’t anything I could do to fix or change him. 

It’s funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That’s a scary place to put ourselves in–and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power? Hm…I don’t think so. I am thankful there is One who has all power–and that one isn’t me!

Surrender!

There comes a time when we need to raise the white flag. We not only surrender our loved ones, but we also surrender ourselves to the Lord. We let go so God can work in our lives and theirs. We let go so we can be free from the anxiety that is destroying us. By surrendering, we choose a way that brings life to us–and possibly to our loved ones as well.

There are no pretenses or illusions about any noble efforts to save someone you love. This is rock-bottom where the rubber sole meets the road. You admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working. You don’t have what it takes to motivate another person  to change their behavior. Only God can do that. Finally you give your impossible situation to God.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps:

  1. I can’t do it.
  2. God can.
  3. I will let Him.

There’s something powerful about recognizing we can’t do what needs to be done in our own strength. This might sound depressing. If we can’t do anything…who can? Ah…that’s the very place God wants us to be. He doesn’t need us, really. He has access to infinite resources. Sometimes the most we can do is simply get out of the way. We intentionally let go of our loved ones. This doesn’t mean we abandon them or stop loving them. Instead, we lovingly entrust them to Jesus. He loves them more than we can imagine. What better place for them to be! The Lord knows every detail about them. He even knows every hair on their heads. He loves them with an everlasting love. Our love pales in comparison.

Author Jan Johnson says it well: 

Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of gaining, and it is. As we relinquish control and admit weaknesses, we remember who we are and why we’re here…This need to control is rooted in fear, but I need to do the thing that is rooted in faith–surrender.  

Once again, I find myself in a place of letting go. This time I know it’s the very best for me and for the brother I love so dearly. 

Is there a situation in your life where you need to surrender?

 

Grace-Filled Marriage

Last summer, Randy and I were flying from Philadelphia to Seattle after a delightful week of family fun in Ocean City, New Jersey. We arrived at the airport, checked in our bags, then took our place in the long lineup for security. That’s when things got tense.

“We should be in that other line,” Randy complained. “This line isn’t going anywhere fast.”

I countered with the fact that the “other” line was for inexperienced travelers and families with small children. We didn’t qualify on either account.

“Well, it’s ridiculous to wait when we could’ve been through security if we’d gone in that ‘other’ line.”

Anger simmered inside me. Why is he being such a jerk? 

When we finally made it through security, we bought coffee and pastries. We looked for a seat in the  restaurant, but it was packed. Right outside, a row of comfortable-looking seats awaited us. 

“Perfect!” Randy made his way over to the handicapped seating.

“We can’t sit there,” I said. “It’s for handicapped people.”

“Fine,” he said with disgust. He picked up his bag and walked briskly toward the gate, leaving me behind to grapple with a too-heavy carry-on bag.

I fought back tears. I’m not going to cry, I told myself. A vendor on the concourse took pity on me and showed me a way to manage my bag more easily. I took a deep breath and kept walking.

I wanted to lash out at Randy, to lecture him about his rude, abusive behavior–not at all typical for him. When we reached the boarding area, I considered sitting as far away from him as possible. I imagined the stony silent flight back to Seattle.

Then I remembered a book I’d been reading…How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong by Leslie Vernick. She talked about how learning to respond rightly when we are wronged takes maturity and wisdom, developing the character of Christ. Not easy, especially in the heat of the moment…especially in a crowded airport on a marathon travel day. But according to Leslie Vernick, someone needs to take the more mature position and respond correctly.

I had a choice. I could extend grace to Randy or I could put up my defensive walls. I had been mistreated. I could take the superior position, insisting on my rights, or I could choose to defuse the situation with a loving response.

My hand weighed a ton as I lifted it and placed it on Randy’s. I smiled. I acknowledged that we were both exhausted. Long airport security lines are never fun and usually frustrating. He managed a smile and mumbled something that sounded like sorry.

The rest of our 16-hour travel day felt peaceful. (We live several hours from Seattle!) We showed more patience and understanding toward each other.  A day that started out miserably had turned out well. And I had learned through the experience.

Grace never ceases to amaze me.

When have you experienced the amazing effects of grace in your marriage?

A Tribute to My Dad

I wrote this piece about my dad 5 years ago on his 80th birthday. It seemed fitting to re-post my tribute to him on Father’s Day, 2011. I love you, Dad!

Wednesday, Flag Day, was my dad’s 80th birthday. When I drove through our sleepy downtown (all of one street) early that morning, flags bedecked nearly every building. I smiled and thought of Dad. How did he get to be 80, I wonder?

Just the other day, it seems, he ran alongside me as I took my first solo two-wheeler bike ride. “No training wheels,” Dad said. He was convinced I could ride without them.

“But Dad,” I protested. “I can’t reach the pedals.”

He tightened the blocks around the pedals. “There you go, Deb. You can do it!”

Of course, he was right beside me, running along with his hand balancing the back of the seat. It was only when I realized he had let go that I panicked and crashed.

“You did great!” Dad beamed. I wasn’t so sure, I thought, rubbing my skinned knees.

Dad insisted that I get back on the bike and try again. He was always there but let go more frequently. He was right. I could do it myself.

And that’s how it’s been throughout my life. Dad has always been there to cheer me on, to nudge me out of my comfort zone, to believe in me when I hardly had any confidence of my own.

When I approached my half-century birthday, I became more aware that Dad wouldn’t always be here. And now, five years later, I am faced with reality. Dad was diagnosed about a year ago with a form of dementia called Pick’s Syndrome. I’ve watched him slowly slip away from being the invincible, self-assured man I could always go to when I needed advice, or that special dose of self confidence. I suddenly feel like I’m 8 years old on my first solo bike ride, wobbly and panicked when I realize no one’s holding onto the bike seat. I miss you already, Dad.

But I remember he’s trained me well. He’s given me the ability to venture into unknown arenas and know I’ll be OK.

Randy and I are traveling over the mountains today to Washington’s Olympic peninsula where my parents live. My four brothers and families will be there from various parts of the U.S. to celebrate Dad and all he means to us. It’s our turn to walk alongside him, steadying his wobbly steps, and assuring him we will always be here for him.

Not all have been fortunate to have a dad like mine but many of us have that unmistakable imprint of a father’s love in our lives. I hope you have the opportunity to tell your dad.

Blessings,

Deb

Love Never Fails!

I have a sign my friend Jenni painted for me that hangs in our living room. The message is simple, yet profoundly difficult: Love never fails, words from 1 Corinthians 13, the well-known love chapter in the Bible.

I’m more keenly aware of the meaning as Randy and I celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary next Sunday! How this is even possible is such a miracle of God’s grace, one we certainly didn’t do anything to deserve.

Forty years ago, we started out with stars in our eyes and as much love as we could hold in our hearts at age nineteen. Nineteen–looking back through the lens of being older and wiser, I wonder how anyone could be mature enough at that age to take on the responsibilities of being husband and wife. When we stood at the altar in front of a church filled with friends and family on that steamy July afternoon, we had no idea of what real love is all about. We expected everything to be rosy, but what about the challenges of living with adversity and disappointment? We didn’t have a clue. 

Our love was framed by contemporary culture and a flimsy notion made popular by a1970s novel-turned-movie: Love means never having to say you’re sorry. We quickly learned we had to say sorry a lot.

Our love certainly failed many times. Over and over, more times than I can count. When a marriage becomes difficult, it’s much easier to look at your partner and see everything that’s wrong. I did. If only he…became my focus, and I launched a campaign to change him, instead of looking at myself. What is it I need to change? Lord, help me look at my heart, I began to pray. I found this to be an incredibly difficult and painful process, but necessary if I was to learn how to love someone with God’s kind of love, love that never fails.

When I think of the never-failing capacity of love, it’s clear that only God’s love never fails. His love in and through us gives us courage to hang in there when we think there’s no hope, to believe beyond any doubt that God is at work in our lives. And that makes all the difference. I used to think nothing would ever change in my marriage, that I’d feel short-changed and resentful because I was married to a man who couldn’t love himself, much less someone else.

That’s when the never-failing part of God’s love shows up. Just when you think you’ve got the situation figured out, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, comes on the scene and changes everything–especially people’s hearts, and then, nothing is ever the same. Even if only one person in a marriage allows the Lord to change her heart,and becomes the one who extends God’s never-failing love to her spouse, the dynamics in their relationship will be different. That’s a guarantee!

If you’re wondering how you’ll last for the next months or even weeks in your marriage, if you think there’s no hope for a decades-long anniversary celebration some day, think again…of a love that never fails, a love that transforms hearts and lives. It happens–joyfully, surprisingly, miraculously!