Thursday, December 29, 2016


Mario and I - the night before we married

Mario and I have been married Twenty-nine years today.  I thank God for Mario and I am sure that he thanks God for me, but we would both agree that marriage has not always been easy.  After twenty-nine years we have a relationship that is beautiful.  It is a relationship that has benefited from our years of hard work.  For years we both practiced sowing the seeds of love.  Our early marriage counselors promised us that sowing good seeds would bear good fruit.  They were right.

After you have been married for as long as we have, people ask you for advice.  We usually don’t give any – mainly because what these couples are really asking for is hope.  They want us to tell them that there is hope for their relationship, no matter how badly it has deteriorated.  All couples do – they want a good relationship.

Once a year I break out our best advice – and here it is.  Read on if you want to…this is the super-abridged edition of what we would tell couples if we really did give out advice.  

1.  Don’t expect your marriage to be like your wedding.

Please don’t take this the wrong way.  

I just mean that your marriage is not going to be like your wedding where everything is all about you!  Weddings used to be a church, a smattering of family, and the bride and groom dressed up in their “Sunday best”.  Now weddings are five-star affairs with big, fat dresses and tuxedos and tall cakes.  Grooms and their groomsmen dance in synchronized fashion.  Envelopes of money are given in celebration. 

Marriage is a MERGER, a legal contract, and a covenant that cannot be broken.   God help you if you think that marriage is one big party.  It is work! Often it is boring, tedious, and routine.  Only the best couples have the endurance to bring life into this arrangement!

2. DEPOSIT into your spouse’s heart.

Love is one of the key ingredients in successful marriages, but romantic love is not enough.  People who master marriage realize that the spouse has a “heart account” that must be filled.  Most people know how to make love withdrawals – but forget to make the love deposits.

Kind words, gifts, laughter, memories and special traditions that you celebrate together are all examples of deposits.  Figure out what your spouse likes and do that thing a lot.  

Let it be your idea. 

3.  Ditch your addictions.

Love is a seedling in an antagonistic world that is built for individuals.  Individuals have addictions. 

Alcohol, drugs and gambling are not the only addictions that kill relationships (although they certainly do a LOT of damage to plenty of marriages). Socially acceptable addictions like food, television, phone games, and work take their toll on more families than you would think.  

After years in full-time ministry we have heard too many partners confide that their significant other no longer values them as much as their ____________.  Fill in the blank with your addiction – that kind of behavior kills.

4. Relationships are worth protecting.   

In an effort to be polite or socially acceptable you may forget that the main relationship you are in requires a genuine wall of defense.  People may try to kidnap one of you for fun and games at the cost of the other’s happiness.  Others may be friends with your spouse but not care for you.  These people have a habit of asking if “just one of you” can work or play side-by-side with them.  There might be times when friends encourage gossiping about your spouse. 

Even well-meaning friends and family can make these mistakes.  We have had many of these in our marriage, but have always managed to remember that our partnership takes priority.  We are not joined at the hip, but we do value togetherness.  Most successful couples are genuinely friends who like to be with one another.  Mario and I keep our spiritual eyes open for the other’s welfare --protecting one another means protecting our relationship. 

5.  Laugh together. 

Couples who laugh together are more likely to enjoy each other's company.  Laughter also releases endorphin - the same hormone that is released during sex.  Take time out of each day to laugh - or to crack each other up.

Last night we played a board game --one that made us guffaw with laughter (Game of Things).  I watched Mario laughing and I was instantly grateful for him being joyful.

6.   Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

I didn’t author this – God did.  Learn how to listen (without your answer playing in your head).  Listen like it’s the first time you’ve ever heard what he/she is saying.  Listen more than you talk and get a reputation as a listener.  If you listen, you open one another’s hearts.  Each time you listen to your spouse you say “You are worth something to me.  What you have to say matters.” 

You may not agree with each other, but at least you have listened.

7. Use your manners.

This is your spouse, not your property.  Say thank you for everything they do for you.  Say please when you ask them to do something.  Hopefully your parents raised you with manners.  Exercise them!!

There are people who use manners even when they are stressed or tired -- I love being around these people!!   

Be blessed and live in love.  We wish you the best in everything. 

Mario and I tonight - after we got home from Dave Smith's Memorial

There are proven studies that show what kinds of couples survive the long-haul of marriage.  Check this out to see one interesting factoid.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Me - at my beloved writing station - at 54
I will love this year.

Today marks my fifty-fourth year here among this beautiful human race.  I am deeply grateful and richly blessed.  My whole life has been defined by the grace of God.  I feel like His favorite daughter, one that often disappoints humans and yet delights Him.  I am tethered to Him –the source of my life and love.  For some inexplicable reason, I have received a greater measure of everything just because He loves me. 

This is truth.  This is real.  This is who I am.

The by-the-ways about me are in a constant state of flux.  By the way, I am a mother.  By the way, I am a wife.  I am a sister, a daughter, a student, a teacher, a writer, an artist, a lover and a musician.  I have learned not to define myself by the by-the-ways in my life. 

If someone would have asked who I was ten years ago, I would have answered that I was Mario’s wife and a homeschooling mother.  Five years ago, I would have answered that I was kind of an American Christian missionary living in Africa.  I am learning how to define myself without presenting the accreditations of all the temporary roles in my life. 

If you read this on the 28th of December, I will most likely be actively grieving with friends and family.  Mario and I will be at David Smith’s memorial –a celebration of a friend’s life.  Dave was here one minute and then gone the next, leaving us all looking around and asking how something like this could happen.  He was a Christian man, one of our closest confidants and advisers.

This year, more than any other, I realize that one day I will die.  I look at my own precious Mario, my beautiful rock, and know that I will grieve him one day –or he will grieve me.  When that day comes, all of my temporary roles of wife, mother, writer, artist, etc. will not matter as much as me being a daughter of God.  That is the role which is eternal, one that defines me on this earth and in the next world. 

For Dave, I am happy.  For his family, I am not.  It is hard to do without one another when there is love that has held us together.  The bonds of family and friendships are beautiful here, but I am grateful for the better bonds: the ones that bind us together with God.

Today I have wisdom in a measure – and next year I will have even more.  I treasure all of you, my friends and family who build me up and shape me into who I am.  Because of all of your human contact, I am constantly reminded of how beautiful this life actually is.

This day, I give you the first three verses of Isaiah 54.  This is a promise from Our Father to Israel.  We inherit these promises because we are grafted into the vine through the righteous branch -and I am looking forward to another triumphant year.

Blessings, today and always.

“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
 “Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
“For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations

And will resettle the desolate cities.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Mario and David - Christmas 2011

I was driving to Chico on Friday when Mario called me.

“Pull over,” he said, in the voice he uses when there is an emergency.  But I was on that unfortunate stretch between Lincoln and Wheatland where there are no turnouts or shoulders. 

“I can’t,” I said.  “What happened?”

“I don’t want to tell you while you’re driving,” he said at first.  After I explained that I could not pull over, he told me that he had just received an email from Terry, one of our best friends, telling him that Dave Smith had died.

Dave Smith, Mario’s best friend.  Dave Smith, the best man at our wedding.  Dave Smith, our daughter’s “step-father.”  Dave Smith who helped us put all of our houses together.  Dave Smith, the relational equivalent of super-glue in our family.

I was sure that it was a mistake.

I finally pulled over on some side street that led to somewhere I didn’t know.  I was seeing rainbows and hearing a ringing in my ears.

“Are you sure?” I asked, in desperation.  We had just seen David the weekend before, at the annual Smith Christmas party where we exchanged white elephant gifts that made us all shriek with laughter.  Where we hugged and made silly faces at each other.  It was all a movie in my head, and I could still feel David and Terry’s hugs.  “Have you called Terry?”

After a weak exchange of flighty conversation, Mario said that he would call her.  He also told me he could not help the urge to get in the car and drive to Walnut Creek and be with her.  I completely agreed. 

“As soon as you know anything, let me know,” I said. 

A few hours later, Mario called me from Dave’s house.  He was with Terry and Michelle (Dave’s daughter) and the news was definitely true.  David had experienced a “major cardiac incident” and had died in the early morning hours of December 16.

Before and After - "Wait a second!! I didn't know you were taking a picture!!" 

I made my way to Chico on auto-pilot.  I knew that I would have to tell our daughter the news before she saw it on social media.   We wept on her laundry room floor, holding on to each other. 
Mario and I did the best we could to make it known privately to our kids that Dave had died. Their reaction was much like ours:  shock, denial, and finally the personal brand of acceptance that only death can bring. 

It is still hard to believe that it is true.

I can remember the day that I met Dave Smith.  I met him at a track meet where he and Mario were competing.  Dave was tall and athletic, like Mario and they related to one another like brothers.  I loved him immediately, even though I could tell that Dave and his wife, Peggy, were careful with me. 

I was Mario’s new girlfriend, another one that came after Mario’s divorce from Cathy.  David did not believe in divorce nor did he approve of Mario dating girls afterwards.  I was the last in a long line of “less-desirables” (Dave’s words, not mine). Dave and Peggy were best friends with Mario and Cathy and they were polite, but reserved with me.  Later David told me that he didn’t want to like me.  “You were taking Cathy’s place and I didn’t want that place taken.”

After a strange and wonderful courtship, I was accepted into the “circle of trust” and Mario and I were married.
David toasts us at our wedding

Our kids and Dave’s kids grew up together.  We were all friends and we were completely unready for a life event that changed everything: David’s divorce from Peggy.  The news sent us reeling.  After all, Dave and Peggy were our solid couple friends and we were not prepared for the next few months. 

After the divorce, Mark, David’s eldest son, contracted type 1 diabetes.  The disease was one that affected all of us – we grieved that this was life-changing for Mark and had no cure.  At 15, Mark was sentenced to a life taking insulin with a syringe, a feat that he had to do not once, but twice every day. 

Mario and Dave became even closer.  They now had something else to discuss: how to survive a divorce, especially with kids involved.  The process was strangely bonding and through it all, both men became closer to their maker.  They learned how to forgive themselves.  Our families healed as much as we could.

Terry and Dave by the BBQ - 2012

I met Terry, the first and only girl David dated after Peggy, the day of their wedding.  She was tall and beautiful.  She was a Christian.  I was so attracted to her – and her desire to adore Christ.  She loved Dave and she came with three incredible kids.  I loved her immediately – even though I felt like I was “cheating” on Peggy.  Did my love for Terry mean that I no longer supported Peggy?  I felt the same feelings that David felt toward me. I could now see how he felt conflicted accepting my presence in Mario’s life.

When she was eight, our daughter, Alicia, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.  As I type this, I remember our familial panic.  Our first call was to David, who brought us down to earth and told us he would be there “after church on Sunday.” He and Terry came to the hospital with a cookbook of sugar free desserts.  I wept in Terry’s arms, David could barely talk.  I remember how Job’s friends came to him and just sat…. that’s what we did.  We just sat together and said nothing.

At eight-years-old, Alicia was not as discouraged about her diagnosis as we were.  Instead, Alicia wanted to know why everyone in her family had a stepfather but she did not.  We tried to explain that step-fathers were only given to kids whose parents divorced, something that we were sure she did not want.  David stepped up and silenced us.

“Hey, I’ll be your step-father, if you want one.”

Alicia was filled with gratitude.  “Really?  Will you?”  From that day forward, David was her step-father.  This was hard to explain to her friends, or their parents, at first.  Eventually, they saw that the relationship was hilarious, and a cause for laughter.

Laughter is what Dave championed.  He would make fun of politicians (“Their dentist is also their proctologist”), people who drove badly (“They should be issued a golf cart, not a car!”), and even his own physical form, which was changing with age (“I am proof that crack kills!”).  The family Christmas party was one that we enjoyed together, the same friends and family, year after year.  Even when we were in Africa, the Smiths were in our lives.  We would come home, jet-lagged and exhausted, from Johannesburg, and flop down in some bedroom of the Smith home for two days before we felt normal.  The Smiths were always our touchstones.

Getting ready to throw something on the grill - 2012

The truth is, we all have our Dave Smiths.  They are the guys that make us real.  They are the ones that stay in one place while we find ourselves and decide who we are.  They are the touchstones of our lives; the glue that holds us together.  They are the ones who we relate to effortlessly for years.  They are what we Americans call “best friends.”

I grieve in incomplete stutters and fits. I will be wrapping presents and remember David and Mario exchanging stories of their growing boys.  I will suddenly remember Dave’s ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat.  I will remember his laugh and his jokes. 

Dave installs soffets at our Kubel Circle house
One final thought that makes me sum up who he was: David helped us get our last house ready to sell, and he and Mario did most of the physical labor.  Suffering with Scleroderma (a chronic connective tissue disorder that is an autoimmune rheumatic disease), Dave often left our house exhausted and in pain.

“Thanks, again, David,” Mario would say, hugging him.  “What do I owe you?” Many times, Dave would only take money for gas. 

“This is what friends do for each other, right?” he would say.  

Mario would laugh and shake his head. “When have I ever done this for you?”

David would think, looking up at the sky.  “Hey!  That’s right!”  He would pretend to be mad, getting in his truck and slamming the door.  “See if I ever help you again, you free-loader!”  The guys would laugh and Dave would wave as he drove away.

That was David: always giving much more than he took.  He was, indeed, the best friend any person could ever have.