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.

New Hope for Marriage Women’s Retreat

I’m excited about the NEW HOPE FOR MARRIAGE women’s retreat I’m co-facilitating with Christie Miller. We have a few spaces available for the Feb. 20-21 date. Know someone who is discouraged in her marriage and needs some new hope – new energy – and a new plan? This is a great weekend opportunity. Small, private, encouraging!

For more information:

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








Reach Out!

The half hour drive from Meridian, Idaho to Boise seemed like the longest of my life. Late one night, I packed our 10 and 7-year old sons in the car with me to escape the turmoil at home. My husband Randy had been drinking again. I suspected that he was an alcoholic. If I admitted that, then I’d be faced with reality–with the elephant that stalked our house. I felt at a total loss in knowing what to do.

A few nights before, I had accused Randy of being an alcoholic. It was as if I’d thrown gasoline on a simmering fire. He exploded in anger and shoved me against the kitchen wall. I wanted to run away and never come back. But two little boys slept upstairs. I’m sure they weren’t really sleeping– probably terrified of what was happening between their parents. Even after 30 + years, I still remember how desperate I felt.

I made the brave decision to take Chris and Jeremy with me to a women’s shelter at the YWCA in Boise. A kind woman greeted us at the door when we arrived. She showed us to a neat room with three roll-away beds. She assured us we would be safe. I hugged and kissed my sons and tried my best to reassure them. I’m not sure I slept much that night, but I felt some relief. We stayed there for a few days. After having several counseling sessions and discussions with Randy, I decided to go home.

Even though it would be a long time before our home was a peaceful place, I had learned some important truths. I was no longer alone. I had been directed to Al-Anon, a support group for families and friends of alcoholics. There I would find tools and resources to help me deal with our problems. The journey toward my own healing and wholeness had begun. I will always be grateful for the YWCA in Boise and their caring staff who took us in that night. I also learned that no matter how bleak a situation appears, there is always hope for change.

How often I’ve thought about the need we as women have for a time-out when circumstances get crazy. Maybe you’re not dealing with alcoholism and a spouse who is physically or verbally abusive. But you’re tired, weary. You need a place to just be quiet and hear yourself think. A place where you feel loved and can be reassured that you are going to be all right.  

Remember, you are not alone. Help is only a phone call or internet click away. The YWCA was only my first step of support. I could write pages to list all the friends, counselors, and support groups who have been part of my recovery journey.

Today, I can hardly believe I’m the same woman who made that impossibly long drive to reach out for help. I can hardly believe Randy is the same man who desperately needed to check out of reality by drinking. Today we enjoy the gift and miracle of sobriety in our lives and peace that comes from knowing we are in the center of God’s will.

When you are called out of crippling fear…you will be amazed at what God has planned for you. There is a world of breathtaking wonder wrapped up in trusting God with everything you have and everything you are. You will discover that you are free! –Sheila Walsh

Let me know if you need to reach out for help. I’d love to help you take a step on your journey to freedom!

My Way or the High Way

I used to think it was all Randy’s fault. If only he’d stop drinking, then we (or most importantly) I could be happy. I also thought I could change him. I could make him want to stay sober. I used ultimatums (you’d better stop drinking or…I’ll leave you…I’ll file for divorce, etc.) I thought he would be motivated to stop drinking. Wrong!

I launched my personal mission to get Randy sober. I placed inspirational books in strategic places around the house and refrigerator magnets with Bible verses on the fridge. When Randy popped open a can of beer, he would see those verses and want to change. Suddenly he would see the light, drop to his knees in gratitude, and proclaim his desire to stay sober. Wrong—again!

It is so tough to love your husband well in circumstances like this, finding the right balance in loving him that reflects Christ’s character. Maybe you’re dealing with a situation where you’ve tried everything you know to love your husband. Nothing ever changes and you feel angry and frustrated. You’ve lost all hope.

I know how you feel. For the longest time it was all about me. I don’t deserve this. Why am I going through this? It isn’t fair. Author and Women of Faith speaker, Patsy Clairmont once said, “Fair is where you buy cotton candy!”

I needed that reminder. The truth is, life isn’t fair. It’s how we respond to life’s inequities that determines whether or not we will find contentment. Looking back, I can see how my reluctant choices to take the “higher road” in our relationship, helped our marriage survive.

Maybe what we need is a road map to guide us, some cues to encourage us to let go of “our way” and become willing to choose God’s “high way.” I thought of the acronym H.I.M. I had to intentionally follow Him (Jesus) to become more Christ-like in all of my relationships.

H = Humility 

Jesus is humility personified. He had a way of zeroing in on a problem and speaking the truth in love. He had a posture of gentle strength. Humility doesn’t mean accepting or condoning your spouse’s bad behavior, but it does mean treating him the way Jesus treated others.

Dangerous Detours that almost derailed me:

1. Self-pity—Why me? This isn’t fair!
 2. Blaming—It’s not my fault.
3. Comparing—The grass is greener myth.

I shifted my thinking. I learned to admit where I had been wrong. Who me? I learned to accept responsibility for my actions.

 Humble yourself in the presence of the Lord and He will exalt you. James 4:10

 I= Integrity

Integrity is courageous honesty, speaking truth in a compassionate way to ourselves and others. Jesus was also a master of integrity.  

Dangerous Detours where I often got hung up:

1. Denial—Refusing to believe or accept what is true.
2. Fear of confrontation—Lack of boundaries or inability to set limits.
3. Disrespect—Treating your spouse in a discourteous manner.

 I needed to honestly confront Randy (and myself) with reality. Truth gives us the ability to walk into the light instead of staying forever hidden in the darkness. Truth brings freedom and relief.

 You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

M= Maturity

Maturity helps us extend grace to others and give up the need to be right. Maturity requires that we’re grounded in reality and that we do our best to make wise choices.

Jesus knew how to reach people. He asked probing questions and told stories to make his point.  

Dangerous Detours that kept me stuck: 

1. Unforgiveness—Bitterness and resentment, the desire to punish the person who has wronged you. 2. Selfishness—Insisting on your own agenda.
3. A hardened heart—Stubborness and unwillingness to change or accept instruction.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

I almost gave up on Randy and our marriage. I’m so thankful the Lord gave me friends who pointed me toward a “higher way.”

• Toward humility so my heart would become tender instead of critical.
• Toward integrity so I could confront the lies I’d told myself and have courage to confront my husband in love.
• Toward maturity so I could act unselfishly, desiring to awaken the goodness in my husband.

By attempting to follow Him, I have truly experienced God’s grace.

Grace is undeserved generosity. It’s a hug when I deserve a slap. And that spirit of forgiving is the soil from which grow words that impart grace to those who hear. Only tender hearts produce words that heal rather than hurt. –Jerry Harvill

Where are you on your journey to follow H.I.M.?

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?

Couples Who Pray: The Most Intimate Act Between a Man and a Woman by SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt

WARNING: This book will change your marriage! That’s the disclaimer on the back

cover of Couples Who Pray by husband and wife, SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt. The authors present convincing research by Baylor University, Gallup, and the compelling stories of 24 test couples who have taken The 40 Day Prayer Challenge, that couples who pray together do stay together! Not only that–they experience greater satisfaction in their relationships than their non-praying counterparts. All it takes is a commitment to pray together for a minimum of five minutes each day.

When I received my copy of Couples Who Pray, I read the first sentence from the introduction to my husband. Men–most of you will want to know that the most intimate act between a man and a woman will greatly enhance the frequency and ecstasy of lovemaking. I have to admit, that statement piqued my interest. My husband said, When can we start?

We joked at first, but we have sincerely been reading this book as a couple, and feel challenged and inspired to pray together–not just at mealtimes or when we’re nodding off after our heads hit the pillows at night. Like the couples who tell their stories throughout the book, we’re finding a deeper level of intimacy growing between us when we take time to pray.

This book is entertaining and easy to read. Several couples who share their stories are celebrities: Denzel and Pauletta Washington, Scott and Tracie Hamilton, and Bruce Sudano and Donna Summer. While I’ve enjoyed reading about their lives and their solid commitment to their marriages (how refreshing!), I have also found it somewhat difficult to relate to their circumstances. However, the authors do include other couples who represent a more mainstream lifestyle.

I really like the premise of this book, but I would have appreciated more biblical depth to avoid being formulaic. If you pray together 5 minutes each day, your marriage will be fabulous! Sometimes it just isn’t that easy.

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!