Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy Marriages

Over at Pioneer Woman’s blog today (, she’s having a wedding anniversary and giving away three $300 Visa gift cards to celebrate. (PW is generous and thoughtful that way.) To enter the giveaway, you just have to post a comment about how long you’ve been married or dating your “honey-baby.”

I posted an overly long comment that began with, “My sweet husband and I have been married since November 4, 2006. I was 39 and convinced I’d be a crazy old cat lady . . . ” and ended with, “Congrats on your anniversary, PW, and on your vibrant marriage.”

There are a lot of amusing and entertaining things that Pioneer Woman (a.k.a. PW a.k.a. Ree) posts on her blog. But I one thing that particularly appeals to me is how unabashedly crazy she is about her husband. With all the negative depictions of marriage on TV, in the movies, in divorce statistics, etc., it’s so nice to hear someone celebrate her marriage. Which Ree does often and naturally and nonchalantly, not just on her anniversary. She makes marriage sound fun and sexy – which it is! – okay, it can be – and she communicates that without oversharing.

(Except for maybe the photos of her hubby’s butt in jeans and chaps. That might be TMI. Mildly scandalous, at least. I could never post anything like that – and my hubby would be so mortified if I did!)

(Tangent Alert!)
On her blog, Pioneer Woman calls her hubby “Marlboro Man,” or “MM” for short. That’s cuz 1) by her own description – and photos – he’s the studly cowboy type and an actual working cattle rancher, and 2) she grew up in a purty house on a golf course, taking ballet lessons and whatnot, and NEVER expected to become a country gal until she fell for MM. So here’s my question – do I need a cutesy nickname to use for my sweetie on my blog? And if so, what should I call him? Hmmm . . .
(End Tangent)

I remember having conversations in my early 20s with peers who honestly couldn’t name a couple they knew who had a good marriage, a marriage they admired and would want to emulate. Maybe that had more to do with the cynicism of twenty-somethings in the late 80s and early 90s than it did with reality. (Or with the self-absorption so common in early twenty-somethings no matter the decade.)

My sweet hubby and I have two sons in their twenties (from his first marriage). They’ve each lived with us for patches of the last nearly five years. For the past couple of months, they’ve both been living with us. Do they realize that we have a happy marriage? I want them to.

If the hundreds of comments on PW’s blog have any relation to reality at all, there are happy marriages out there. A lot of them.

(Okay, so statistically, hundreds out of the whole country maybe isn’t “a lot,” although it’s not like all 300 million Americans read PW every day. At least 3 million probably skip a day now and then. And another 5 million probably wouldn’t comment to enter a giveaway even if it were for a $300,000 gift card instead of $300. People are funny that way. And maybe a couple people fibbed about how happy their marriage is just to sound good to PW’s other readers. Still. Lotta ladies sayin’ marriage with their man is blissfully splendid, thank you very much. There. That’s my English Major’s Disclaimer about Generalizations Based on Shaky Math.)

To be fair, it is true that there are many unhappy marriages out there as well. I don’t want to minimize or ignore that. I’ve seen some misery and destruction in loved ones’ lives. It’s awful. 

But here’s one part of the truth, which Bill and I came to this week during our morning time of Bible reading and prayer: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1). I think about that sometimes, and occasionally I try to view my own actions and choices through that lens. Does this build up my house? How can I build up my house, my family, my marriage in this moment?

Bravo to Ree for building up her house by publicly praising her husband. And by drooling over him for all to see!

So tell me . . . What would you like to say about marriage – either your own or marriage in general – that just doesn’t get said often enough?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sentimental Clutter

Can someone please tell my why I felt compelled to keep this violin-shaped ashtray that belonged to my late grandfather?

It’s not the only memento I have of Pop, not by a long shot. I don’t have any memories of him using it—he’d quit smoking long before I came along. And I don’t smoke.

I suppose I kept it because Gram put a handwritten label on it, explaining that it had been a birthday gift from my dad in 1959. (He’s been gone even longer than Gram and Pop.) With the grief of Gram’s passing still raw and fresh, I cried over the violin ashtray and stuck it in a box to take to my new home.

That’s how I’ve accumulated too much sentimental clutter.

In his book The Secret Life of Hoarders, Matt Paxton writes, “Hoarders aren’t slobs who don’t care about being clean. They are people struggling with overwhelming emotional issues. A pile in a hoarder house isn’t a pile of stuff; it can be many things: a pile of sadness, a pile of quitting, or sometimes even a pile of hope. It’s never really about the stuff, hoarders are just confusing their possessions with their emotions.”

Sometimes, it’s a pile of loss.

Now, my house does not look like anything you’d see on those reality TV shows about hoarders. And yet . . . nearly five years after marrying Bill and moving into his house, there are still big piles of my boxes in two rooms. (That’s in addition to all the boxes on the garage shelving and in a shed.) Okay, so it’s not all sentimental clutter, but that’s a good portion of it.

On the mesmerizing (and now defunct) TV show Clean Sweep, Peter Walsh sometimes dealt with this issue. He’d stand, facing the offending pack rat, perhaps with one hand on her shoulder, pin her with his eyes, and say, “Can you love your grandmother . . . and cherish her memory . . . without keeping all of her stuff?”

Yes, Peter, I can.

Gram has been gone for five years now. It’s become easier to let go of her everyday possessions, carrying them out of my house in a trickle of cardboard boxes, donating them to various thrift stores and garage sales.

That ashtray’s days in my house are numbered.

Gram’s sticker also mentions another gift Pop received: a pipe from his lifelong friend Ralph, given in 1948.

When I was a very little girl living with Dad and Gram and Pop, Ralph used to visit. I’d wait until he was comfortably seated in the living room and then snatch the foil tobacco pouch out of his left shirt pocket. I’d retreat just out of reach, open the pouch, and inhale deeply of the tangy scent. I loved it. Although Pop had a small rack of pipes in the closet with the reel-to-reel tape recorder, there were no pouches of tobacco, fragrant or otherwise, in our house.

Pop and Ralph had become friends as young men working in a mine in eastern Oregon. The men worked in teams of two. One day Pop told the boss he was quitting; his partner was too reckless. The job was not worth his life.

“Well, is there anyone you think you could work with?” the boss said.

“Well, yes,” Pop said. “I’d work with Ralph Townsend.”

And work together they did—first in the mine, then on the Jordan Valley Irrigation District, and eventually in laundromats they owned together. Ralph even dated one of Pop’s sisters for a while. Ralph named his son Stan after my grandfather. Stan became a mechanic and eventually passed the business along to his son, Jason. I’ve been taking my car to them for the past eleven years, ever since I moved back to town. Wes, my grease-monkey stepson, even worked there for a while.

So in honor of a friendship that began in the late 1920s and still has ripple effects today, I think I’ll keep the pipe.

Brandon, my other stepson, thinks the violin ashtray is pretty cool. He never knew Dad or Pop, so it wouldn't be a family keepsake for him. But if I decide to get rid of the ashtray, he’ll take it. And he’d use it, too—he smokes.

I think I’ll give it to him . . . no strings attached.

So tell me . . . How do you decide what to let go of and what to treasure?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Suffering, Scripture, and Comfort

I have a friend who will probably die of brain cancer. She is a radiant woman, an athlete, an amazingly talented cook, a gifted writer and editor, a loving wife and joyful mother of two young boys. She is exuberant and energetic. Her smile is warm, her sense of humor sharp. She is thirty-seven.

Her cancer has been compared to a rhinocerous—slow-moving but causing tremendous damage as it goes.

I know that God can heal her and that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of us are praying for Him to do so.

I also know that God may not heal her. I know it deep in my bones.

My dad died at thirty-seven, leaving my sisters fatherless at three and five, my stepmom widowed at thirty-two. I was sixteen. My stepmom lasted three years on her own before taking her own life. As Fantine sings in the song “I Dreamed a Dream” in Les Miserables, “There are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.” My stepmom could not weather that loss.

So I do know deep in my bones that God does not always heal in this world, does not always arrange the “happy” that we wish for.


When we are faced with things like this, with realities that have us crying at three in the morning, sometimes during the bright daylight hours Christians quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”   

I have hated that verse. For a long stretch of years, it would send me into a cold, wordless rage. It felt like I was being offered a Band-Aid for a sucking chest wound.

I’ve mellowed a bit in recent years, although I still think that verse should be handled very, very carefully.

God’s grace has been poured out over my life and my sisters’ lives. My sisters were taken in by an amazing adoptive family that, even in my angriest prodigal days, I could only ascribe to God’s grace. He has brought us healing and amazing gifts. He has restored the years that the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). So this is not a post to doubt His faithfulness or His love.

But all that grace, all that healing—and it is considerable—does not undo the wound. My sisters were still orphaned. It has taken over twenty years to reach a point where my dad’s death during my teen years is not the overwhelming, defining event of my life.


People sometimes say, “We just have to trust that this is all part of God’s plan.”

Mmm . . . not sure I believe that.

God is all-powerful. God is loving. God has given us free will. We live in a world with good and evil, and they are often in battle, watched (or ignored) by a big audience of obliviousness and indifference.

He works things together for good; I’m not convinced that means He plans every bit of suffering. (Although I’m open to pursuasion, if my position has you squirming.)

(Here’s a joke from my worship pastor: “What did the Calvinist say after he fell down the stairs? ‘I’m glad that’s over with!’”)


When I’m wrestling with grief, Romans 8:28 is a verse that takes me a long time to come around to. Early in the process, I prefer Romans 8:38–39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Did you catch that? Death cannot separate me from God’s love. Not my death. Not my dad’s. Not my stepmom’s suicide. Not my friend’s (possible) impending, untimely separation from her husband and sons.

In my grief, I may feel like I’ve been cut off from His love. But let’s look again at Romans 8.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vv. 35–39)

Now that’s medicine for a sucking chest wound.


So tell me . . . What passage of Scripture do you turn to when you need God’s comfort?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"When sorrows like sea billows roll . . . "


I don’t want to post about sad stuff.

I don’t want to have sad stuff in my life.

Silly Lisa. Sometimes sad stuff happens. Painful stuff happens.

The past few weeks have had more than their share of bad medical news: a heart-breaking diagnosis for a friend followed a week later by a stomach-clenching diagnosis for  another friend’s mom and then, just days later, worrisome lab results within our own family.

The bad news rolled over me, pulling me under, and it seemed like I’d resurface, choking and spluttering, only to see another wave bearing down.

At one time, years ago, my grief turned to anger at God, and I ran from Him. Other times, I somehow turned toward Him rather than away. This time, my anger flared hot but guttered and died pretty quickly. Yet I was still reluctant to turn toward Him for comfort. Somewhere deep inside I felt, I am all alone to deal with this. I must be strong and weather it.

That is a lie.

Consider Psalm 62:3, 5-9, 11-12 (niv):

How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving.

(Is it weird that I find it comforting that most of us are but a breath? I do.)

So now I have told myself: Pour out your heart to Him, Lisa. God is strong, and God is loving. Your hope comes from Him. He is your refuge, your rock, and your salvation.

And that’s the truth.