Some Fine Books on Marriage — a Book(s) Review

Three of them, to be exact — each one unique, each one valuable for different reasons. One is a daily devotional guide that provides thoughtful and humorous reflections on the realities of married life, one is a memoir about a difficult marriage, one that ultimately did not hold together, and one is a lovely apology for marriage and fidelity in an age when neither is of high value to the larger culture.

First up, “Love at First Fight,” by Dena and Carey Dyer. A disclaimer here — Dena is a dearly loved friend of mine and member of an ongoing Facebook small group that has prayed faithfully for one another for over four years, so I am a tad prejudiced. She and her husband are both talented singers, entertainers and writers and their book displays that talent beautifully (except for the singing – though a search of YouTube yields golden examples of that, as well!). Designed to be read by couples, this is a thoughtful and well-written daily guide to the ins and outs of living side-by-side with another human person, one to whom you’ve spoken words of commitment in a public setting and who then proceeds to drive you absolutely crazy on a regular basis. Humor is sprinkled heavily throughout this little book along with some pretty solid advice. They gently tackle topics like family of origin differences, personal quirks, differing energy levels, disagreements about everything from raising kids to who does what when. Both Dena and Carey are honest, sincere, funny and ultimately, kind to the core. And that is a rare gift in this crazy world of ours.

The second book was a best seller before it was released, “Love Warrior,” by Glennon Melton. I am grateful for Glennon’s presence on the web, impressed by her good works and huge readership, a group of thousands which has become a generous sister warrior community. She is outspoken, intelligent, and a clear voice for those who are marginalized and suffering. She is also a recovering alcoholic, someone who has known her share of personal sorrow and struggle. This book takes an honest look at a marriage that was troubled from the beginning and walks the reader through her husband’s infidelity and how they made their way back to some kind of wholeness in the aftermath. Just before the book’s release, however, she announced that they are now living separately (on the same street) and will soon be divorced. The writing is raw, and sometimes hard to read, but most of those who are fans will undoubtedly love every bit of it. I did not. That is a highly personal response and does not mean much, to tell you the truth. Oprah loved it, however, so what do I know??

The third book is a gem. “Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity,” by Katherine Willis Pershey is rich with personal story-telling, a case study or two, and some lovely thinking about why marriage matters and what covenant keeping looks like. Katherine is a fellow former writer for Deeper Story, a website which I miss to this day, so we have had some internet connection over the years. I also loved her first memoir, “Any Day A Beautiful Change” — a favorite read several years ago. This second book does not disappoint.

No less a figure than Eugene Peterson — my absolute favorite pastor-who-also-writes (also — Barbara Brown Taylor, so maybe not absolutely absolute!) — has this to say about the book: “. . . without question, the very best book on marriage I have ever read — and I have read many.” He also writes the forward for this book — that alone is reason enough to purchase and read it, at least in my opinion.

I need to tell you that I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review, but I would happily buy it — and I will. It will be a pleasure to give it as a gift for anyone I know who is either planning on getting married or struggling to decide if their marriage is worth salvaging. There is a winsomeness to Katherine’s writing — she is honest, admits their areas of struggle, is strongly in favor of good marital counseling, and doesn’t shy away from the hard parts of the marriage journey. But throughout every page of this book is a strong, almost palpable sense of joy and gratitude, a thread that pulls the reader along on a gentle wave of gladness. That is a gift, one that I appreciate and celebrate. I am ‘very married’ myself — for 51 years on the 18th of December this  year, and I found myself nodding with recognition all along the way. For a long list of reasons, this sweet book comes with a high personal recommendation — it is definitely worth reading.

How to Live When the End Is Near — Deeper Story

It happens to all of us. I’m here to tell you, this is the truth: we all get old, some of us a lot older than others. And that day is here for me. Sigh. Truth be told, I still don’t quite believe it! You can start this little reflection here and then follow me over to one of my favorite places in the entire web, A Deeper Story.

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Four generations on Christmas Eve, 2014

This is a big year for me, one of those milestone numbers. It’s the year that my 3rd grade self decided would be the year I became really old. This is that year — 2015. I was born on January 23, 1945 (which means my birthday shorthand reads like this: 1-23-45. My father was convinced I’d grow up to be a mathematician, just like he was — but I fooled him. Big time.)

 

Yes, this is the year — in fact, this is the month — that I turn 70.

 

But I have something important to tell you right here: that number no longer feels old (as in decrepit). Yes, it does feel old (as in a lot of years), but inside this lined face and underneath this white hair? I feel like I’m about 45.

 

Aging is a strange phenomenon. The longer you live, the further out ‘old’ becomes. When I was 20, I thought 50 was ancient. But when I was 50, and still two years away from a new job that would keep me busy for a decade and a half, I thought 70 sounded old.

 

Now I’m 70 and you know what? 90 sounds ‘old’ to me these days.

 

So as I listened to the end-of-the-year sermon last month, a sermon focused on two of my favorite characters in Luke’s birth narrative of Jesus, I thanked God for every one of these years. For the privilege of walking around on this planet, with people that I love nearby, good work still to do and relatively good health and humor to enjoy. And it was the old codgers — Simeon and Anna — who helped me to say that ‘thank you,’ loud and clear.

 

You remember those two, right? The oldsters who were in the temple in Jerusalem? The ancient ones, the ones who had been waiting for the ‘comfort’ of Israel to show up. The ones who spent their days praying and hoping and looking, both of them described as righteous, devout and faithful. Those two may have been old, but they were still paying attention to the zeitgeist, they were two strong and deeply centered people, ever on the look-out for God’s promised one. . .

 

 

Come on over to ADS to reflect with on all three old people . . . Simeon, Anna and me!

 

 

‘Tis the Season — A Deeper Story (Church)

It’s my turn to write for A Deeper Story again, this month on the church channel. Stepping into Advent for some particular reasons this year. . .

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Where did the words go? I can’t seem to find them just now, though I’ve looked high and low. Not a one on my personal blog these days – nothin’. And not many tumbling around in this head of mine, either. Just a whole lotta empty space up there, coupled with a vague sense of unease.

 

I am seldom without words. Ask anyone who knows me — I can talk with the best of ‘em — and I usually have a lot of ideas punching each other to come to the front of the line. But these days, it’s very quiet in my head. Very. I’m not entirely sure what that’s all about, but I am paying attention. And I am wondering . . .

 

And then I remember a particular word, one I first learned about 30 years ago from a friend who was new to me at the time. It’s a word I should have known, I suppose, as I’ve always considered myself to be a connoisseur, and a collector of interesting compilations of letters, which taken together constitute what we call words. [Just try to come up with a synonym for that . . . well . . . for that word word, okay?]

 

This particular one is simple, and it’s connected to the agricultural life. Which may be why I did not know it — I know zilch about farming, so I thank God for Ann Voskamp and Jennifer Lee who are teaching me about the beauties and difficulties of this life on a daily basis.

 

Here it is, along with its Oxford Dictionary definition:

            fallow: (Of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation or to avoid surplus production.


F A L L O W — What a great word! An important word, one that we overlook to our peril, ignore to our destruction. Why? Because we all need it. Regularly. Human beings need fallow seasons in life, just as fields need times when they go unseeded. I believe we all experience those times when we find ourselves . . . empty. And that’s where I’ve been in recent days. So, I began to wonder: why not learn to embrace this time rather than fear it? Why not recognize that sometimes what I need most to do is to rest and replenish; to let the soil of my heart and mind experience a little bit of quiet, maybe some gentle tilling, and a lot of wide open space. Because if I do that, I give permission for the sun to revive, the rain to cleanse, and time to season. . . 

Please click here to read the rest of this essay . . .

Wait and See . . . A Deeper Story

I’m writing at A Deeper Story today, talking about waiting – and why it’s important. But also why it’s dang hard. You can start here and then click over to read the rest . . .
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The house is quiet tonight. And that feels right. I am tired and more than a little bit anxious, wondering if a long-planned vacation is going to happen. Inclement weather may well force cancellation of our flight and we truly need a break about now. A break in the weather, a break from the routines of surgical recovery, a break.

So, we wait. We wait for weather updates, we wait to hear from the airline, we wait to decide if we should re-schedule.*

We wait.

And as we wait, I’m reflecting on how much of life is spent doing exactly that — waiting.  Waiting for all kinds of things, from the trivial to the sublime. We wait in traffic, we wait for school to be out, we wait for the bread to rise, we wait for the doctor to call, we wait for a baby to be born or an elderly, ailing loved one to die. We live in the middle of all kinds of waiting — small kinds of waiting and terribly L O N G ones, too.

We wait.

And I guess we’re in pretty good company with all this waiting — at least, if we take our Holy Book (even a little bit) seriously. EVERYBODY waits in the pages of our book, some of them a dang long time, seems to me.

And so much of the time, that waiting is marked by hope. Perhaps God begins it all when he waits for Adam and Eve to show up for their usual evening stroll, patiently calling them to come out from hiding. I wonder, do you think God hopes? One of the things that I love about our creation story is this picture of God looking for his loved creatures. I know nothing about the workings of time and eternity, but it somehow makes me happy to think that God always hopes good things for us, that God imagines a different ending, one of reunion and reconnection.

Surely the characters whose lives mark the pages of Our Book are regularly on the look-out for a different ending. Noah waits for it to rain — and then for it to stop raining. Abraham waits for lots of things — a word from the One God, and for a final landing place, one marked with beauty and abundance. But most of all, Abraham and Sarah wait for an heir, an answer to a promise. They wait beyond hope, those two. . .

Just click on this line and you can finish this piece over at A Deeper Story. . .

 

A Deeper Story: Stepping Into the Holy

I can’t even begin to put into words how grateful I am to be a small part of the Deeper Story community. Ours is a rare and wonderful space on these cyberwaves, filled with honest story-telling and great conversation. Please follow the link to read all of this post over there . . .

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It washed over me in a flood yesterday afternoon: I really love my life. Even when it’s hard, even when things I did not choose interrupt my forward progress on the way to where I thought I was going, even when I’m tired or sick or injured — I love my life.

 

I wasn’t doing anything particularly memorable at that moment. On the contrary, I was doing the usual — pulling together something resembling a meal for me and my husband. But there was this lovely, cool breeze flowing through the open kitchen window, the sun was shining, the wood floors were warm and smooth, the pantry was full, even the fridge was relatively well-organized and clean.

 

We’d had a surprise connection with our son for lunch earlier in the day, my mom was stable and smiling when I’d seen her the day before, the rest of our family was well and relatively happy, my foot was slowly healing. And, out of nowhere, I experienced a holy moment, right there in the middle of my green kitchen. So I stopped for a moment and I breathed a heartfelt, “Thank you!”

 

But here’s the flip side: even when I’m flooded with thanksgiving and delight like that, I too often find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

Do you know that feeling? That insidious inner warning bell that says, “Yeah, you be careful there, honey. Don’t be too happy. Sure, you can be grateful — but do it with a note of caution, all right? Things are going well right now. But just you watch. Right around the corner, something terrible is going to happen and then where will your ‘happy song’ go?”

 

And that sad little ‘ding, ding’ inside my spirit can sometimes keep me from fully appreciating the beauty that is right in front of me. That anxious feeling, that superstitious thinking, can too often torpedo my contentment, IF I let it.

 

And way too often, I do let it. I tone down the enthusiasm, I look for the hard/bad things in my life to offer as a counterweight to all the good vibes, I try to ward off impending doom with a strange kind of interior bargaining, struggling to keep the cosmic scales in balance.

 

Why is that, I wonder? Deep down, do I think I don’t deserve happiness? Am I living in a state of perpetual angst-ridden anxiety? Do I think “God is out to get me?” I’m not sure of all the deep-seated psychological and/or spiritual issues that come into play to create this strange little interior dance. I just know I’ve grown very, very tired of it. . . 

To read more, just follow this link and join the discussion.

Being Saved by Beauty — A Deeper Story

For nearly two years now, it has been my joy and privilege to write once a month for one of the finest and most honest websites in the Christian blogosphere – A Deeper Story. I’ve got a reflection over there this month that came as a result of so much angry talk out here during this hot and sultry summer. Please follow the links here and at the end of this post to read the entire piece:

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“One thing have I asked of the LORD, one thing will I seek: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NRSV)

Every day. Honest to God, every single day, it is beauty that brings me back from the brink. Some days, it’s the single strongest strand in the invisible net that keeps me from sinking beneath the waves of agony that overwhelm our world on a regular basis.

This life we live can sometimes bring us to a desolate and frightening place. Human beings can be filled with so much hatred and ignorance; the work of the natural world can impinge upon our safety and our peace of mind; racism and sexism and ageism and every other ism you can name — well, they show up in all kinds of ways, both blatant and subtle. There are days when it all feels claustrophobic, paralyzing, too much.

I think that’s why I’ve chosen not to watch the news very much. We don’t take newspapers anymore, either. Maybe I’m like the proverbial ostrich, sticking my head in the sand, falsely believing I’m safe, while the ugliness continues to swirl around my very exposed hind parts.

All I know is, I have limits.

I do not like admitting that truth, I’ll tell you that. Most of my life, I’ve worked very hard to push through perceived limits, pushing to excel at whatever I’m doing. Why? Because I really, really don’t like limits that are imposed upon me by others, which is at the heart of all those isms I mentioned above, isn’t it? Racism, sexism, ageism — one group of people imposing limits on another group of people. And those kinds of limits, I do push back against, gently but firmly.

But I have other limits, ones that I’m discovering in my spirit, in my soul, and they seem to become more and more pronounced as the years add up. There are limits to how much ugliness I can take in, how much vitriol I can absorb. So I generally do not read comment threads that move from discussion to disagreement to name-calling. And I do not follow Twitter fests that quickly degenerate into small bites of not-knowing-much. There are exceptions to this, I know. But for this old broad, the speed and agility with which so many choose to speak is simply beyond me.

In the blogging world, and even on Facebook, I find that I am grateful for friends who can speak back to the ugly, and I try to lend my support with a gentle comment or two, or a Facebook share. But I am discovering that I don’t have what it takes to enter the fray and slice through the verbiage with a carefully aimed retort. For most of the last four years, I’ve been okay with that, grateful to be an encourager and a supporter, a cheerleader on the sidelines, gladly giving way to quicker minds and more articulate voices.

Today, however, at this end of these four years, I wonder: is it enough? Am I doing enough? Do I need to speak up more, maybe even shout more? This has been a matter of prayer and much inner seeking and searching into the depths of my heart and the limits of my courage. . .

Please click here to follow me over to A Deeper Story. . .

 

A Sacramental Life – A Deeper Story

This is a story that I’ve told pieces of before, but I’ve never told it at A Deeper Story. It’s my turn over there today, so please follow the links to finish reading this post . . .

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His name was Thomps. Tall, lean, always smiling, Warren Thompson was the kind of man who made you think of Jesus every time you looked at him. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite like him — and somehow, that makes me very sad. Seems to me there should be oodles of people like Thompsie. Seems to me that all of us who claim the title Christ-follower should look a whole lot more like Thomps than most of us do.

He came to faith in his 20s, soon after leaving the navy and settling into married life with his life partner, Nancy, in the foothills of Pasadena, California. I don’t know much about his earliest days of faith because I didn’t meet Thomps until he was in his mid 50s.

He wasn’t a flashy guy. Far from it. He was almost shy, somewhat diffident, willing to stay in the background — emphasis on the word stay. That was the thing about this man — he stayed. He came to the mid-sized church we attended long before we did and very quickly offered his services as a volunteer with the youth. By then, he had a couple of little kids, a full time job and a heart that throbbed with an overflowing love for young adults.

So Thomps began to hang out with the teens. He showed up on Sunday mornings, he showed up on Wednesday evenings, he showed up on outings, he showed up at camp. Wherever they were, Thomps was there, too. He was willing to be the stooge, the guy in the skit who got shaving cream smeared on his face, the one who just loved seeing kids laughing and having fun.

More than their laughter, though, he loved their hearts, especially those belonging to young men. Every male student who came to youth group got taken out to breakfast. He’d drive all over town, picking kids up early in the morning, taking them — one or two at a time — to a local coffee shop. Together, they’d down pancakes and orange juice, and Thomps would ask them about themselves. “How’s school?” he’d say. Or, “How’s your prayer life?” he’d query. And always, he’d ask, “How can I help?”

And help he did. He went to sporting events, he listened to debates, he encouraged good study habits, he offered suggestions for devotional guides.

And he prayed. Oh, how he prayed.

 Please join me at A Deeper Story and tell me about a Thomps in your life . . .

“Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World” – a reflection

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From the very first words I ever put out on this blog, this has been my theme and my call:

“Tell stories, Diana. Tell your stories.”

When I first began to write in this space, I didn’t have a strong rationale for that stance, I just knew in my spirit that this was to be a place of story-telling. Not argument, not academic theological wrestling, not diatribe.

A sermon or two? Well, yes – those always included stories.

Some prayers once in a while? Those, too, are part of my own story, my journey as a disciple and as a pastor.

An occasional book review? Yup, those, too. Because reading is a vital part of writing, especially helpful in the writing of personal stories. 

And there have always been a lot of photographs, too. Because, well — you guessed it! Pictures tell stories, sometimes better than words do.

Over these last four years of more regular blogging, the theme of story has come front and center for me, and time after time, my choice to be a story-teller has been confirmed and validated.

Being invited to write at A Deeper Story was a great and miraculous gift, one that allowed me to tell some of my stories to a larger audience, in a place that welcomed whatever it is I have to bring to the story-telling table.

So now, the Editor-in-Chief of ADS has written a book. A fine book, an easy-to-read book. And guess what it’s about? Well, of course it is — it’s about telling YOUR story, because YOUR story is important.

And it’s about telling your story because that is a much better, gentler, more effective way to interact with one another in this online space and in everyday life. On the back cover of this delicious new book, Nish Weiseth asks this critical question:

“How would your life be different if you shared your stories rather than your opinions?

Can I get an ‘amen’ to that??

How many times a day do you find yourself in a situation where you feel frustrated, ignored, misunderstood, even rejected by the words and/or actions of someone else? Maybe a someone you don’t know all that much about. And what if knowing that someone’s back-story might help you understand why he/she acts the way they do?

Because knowing someone’s story makes a huge difference in how we see them, how we approach them, what we say to them and how we say it. Stories are powerful and effective ways for us to see one another as whole people. People who have been wounded, who have survived, who have made mistakes, who have learned from some of those mistakes and repeated too many of them. When we know someone’s story, we are able to hear them differently, to hold their words and actions with a greater sense of equanimity and compassion.

Stories can change the world. Surely, Jesus thought so — he used all kinds of them during his ministry years. This faith that we hold dear is built on THE story, the one about grace and love and finding and seeking and life and death and resurrection. I stake my life on that story.

Woven throughout Nish’s wonderful book are eight examples of story-telling from the pages of A Deeper Story, a lovely addition to the overarching theme, each one a stellar example of how vulnerable, searching story-telling touches hearts and changes lives.

What if instead of arguing with one another, we told each other our stories? What if we committed ourselves to learning about one another before offering judgment? What if we stopped the frantic searching for how-to, if we took a break from finding a-new-and-better-program? What if we began asking, “Who are you?” “Why are you here?” Rather than, “How can I make you stay and look like everybody else here at this church?”

What if we trusted that God is going before us in each person who comes through our doors, that God has been at work long before we ever came along, that the newcomer or the millennial or the senior or the one who doesn’t look like the rest of us is already on the way into the kingdom?

What if our role is simply to tell our story and then listen to the other’s? Could it be that straight-ahead, that personal, that simple?

Oh, I think Nish is onto something. Really, I do.

You can find Nish’s new book at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, LifeWay, or Christianbook.com

I received an advance copy and am absolutely delighted to write about and recommend this book. I took it down to the beach and read it in 2.5 hours, front to back. And marked it up a lot, too. 

Gettin’ on That Mat — A Deeper Story

It’s time for my monthly contribution over at A Deeper Story today. The editors chose to put this on the family channel – see what you think.

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Matthew’s gospel has him showing up by the lakeside. Mark and Luke talk about an overcrowded house and the removal of roof tiles to get the guy into the same airspace as the Rabbi. And all three of these gospels talk about the friends, the ones who cared about the paralyzed man.

His friends.

The ones who carried him when he couldn’t walk anywhere under his own steam. The ones who laid him carefully on that mat, who got inventive when access seemed to be denied, who believed in his healing for him.

His friends.

Surely one of the most beautiful of words in the history of the English language: friends. For most of my life, I’ve been gifted with some great ones. People who have met me in the middle of the pain, in the squishiness of the mess, and in the moments of joy and silliness, too. Sisters, and a few brothers here and there, who have walked life with me — the dailyness of it all, the twists and turns, the routine and the unexpected, the predictable and the not so much.

People who know me, who get me, who hold me accountable, who call me on my crap, who encourage me when I’m down, who shoot holes in any hot air balloon that may be surrounding my head at any given moment in time. People who love me, all of me: the too-muchness of me, the outloudness of me, the bossiness of me, the loud laughter of me, the realness of me.

There have been times when the faith of my friends has carried me through some scary, dark times. When the prayers of others have had to be all the prayin’ there is, because I ain’t havin’ none of it. When the kindness of my friends has saved me from myself, from the hurtful remarks of not-friends, from the pain that comes along with the option of living here on the planet.

I’m not at all sure why this is true, but sometimes trouble comes in batches, when painful situations pile up like a rugby scrum, and hope has a tough time finding its way into the center of the throng. It is those times when the truest friends miraculously show up, when they gather round, bring in a meal, send a care package, make a phone call, drop an email or a FB message. . . 

Please join me over at A Deeper Story to read the rest of this piece.

Rick Steves, Anniversaries, and Italy – A Deeper Story

It’s time for my monthly post at A Deeper Story. Here’s a sampler . . .

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This is a story about being married. It’s an anniversary story, an old one, nearly twenty years ago now, but a true one, and a good one. It began as an adventure, sank pretty quickly to a disaster, and ended with joyful re-discovery.

My husband had to be in London for business, so we figured, “Why not make a trip of it? Let’s go to Italy, rent a car and see as much as we can see.” We’d done that for our 25th — driving all around England, Scotland and Wales, following Rick Steves’s advice the whole way, and we had a fabulous time.

This, however, was a different experience entirely. First off, the London meeting got moved to New York. Well, okay. Hmm. Let’s see what we can do about those tickets. And what we could do with those tickets wasn’t much – NYC to CHICAGO to Milan, turning an eight-hour trip into twice that.

Oh, and while we were in New York, one of our bags got lost – the hotel’s fault – and I spent two days frantically replenishing my husband’s travel wardrobe, purchasing a new suitcase, and replacing my Bible and journal, and — serendipitously — picking up a delightful small guide book featuring ‘inns and itineraries’ of Italia.

Thirtieth Anniversary Trip, here we come!

Except when we landed in Milan, things got a little dicey. I tend to . . . how shall I put this? Take too much stuff everywhere I go. And we had seven — count them — seven pieces of luggage, including two roller bags, two backpacks, a purse and two smaller carry-ons — and after we went through customs, we thought we’d lost one of the backpacks. Dick went to find it, I got on the bus to town with the rest of the bags, and sure enough, the bus took off – leaving Dick with our only Italian money at the airport, and me with all our luggage (yes, all our luggage) headed toward the center of Milan – each of us alone.

And it went downhill from there.

Please join me for the rest of this tale over at A Deeper Story . . .

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