To my nephew and niece-in-law, three years later

Three years ago, I wrote down some marriage advice for my nephew and his bride. It turned out to be one of my most visited posts.

My nephew and niece-in-law are still happy three years later, and though I don’t think it has anything to do with my advice, I wanted to share the post with you again today. After all, we’re in the midst of wedding season, and perhaps your nephew/niece/daughter/son is set to marry soon, and you’d like some ideas of what to share with the happy couple. So here it is again. If you think I left anything out, please add your own nuggets of marital wisdom in the comments at the end of the post.


My dear nephew and his bride, Continue reading

An alternative to going dark

Friday brings a change to the White House, a power shift in Washington. I hope—whether you’ll be commiserating with family and friends, celebrating, or marching in protest—that you’ll take a few moments first to ponder darkness and light, contempt and compassion, condemnation and grace.

I’ve seen buzz growing around the idea of going dark on Facebook this Friday by posting a completely black rectangle where your cover photo would normally be. I confess the idea has some appeal to me, but I also know I have to carefully guard my own soul and heart and mind from settling in with dark thoughts and fears.

Church this past Sunday offered a scripture reading that reminded me of an essential truth to cling to in the days and weeks and months ahead. God calls each of us to reflect God’s light to others:

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I will also make You a light of the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. — Isaiah 49:6

Continue reading

Tree signs: U r loved

How is it already September? How are we already five weeks into this seven-week tree sign series? For those of you who have followed the whole series to date, you may have sensed a thread running through all of the signs, a thread about how God views us and how God hopes we will view ourselves and others. Love is the prevailing theme in the tree signs, and this week’s sign states the truth as plainly as possible:

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For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. – John 3:16

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for our brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. – 1 John 3:16-18

When I was searching the Bible for just the right verses, I noticed something beautiful and new (to me anyway): John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16 tell exactly the same love story. One looks at Jesus’ death from God’s perspective and the other from Jesus’ own perspective. Why say it twice? Quite simply: we all need to hear someone huge and important and unstoppable loves us.

Don’t we all have days when we feel unloved, or maybe unlovable? Days we feel alone or ignored or unappreciated? These are the days the 3:16 verses were meant for—the days we most need reminding that the greatest love in the world applies to each of us as individuals, not just some vague “others” in the world.

Whoever created the “U R Loved” sign wrote it using passive voice, often a bugaboo for this former English teacher. But I love passive voice here because it encourages you to fill in the inherent blank. Who loves you? U R Loved (by God/by friends/by spouse/by children/by family/by someone).

Driving by this sign causes me to make a mental list. I am loved by …

The length of my list is a blessing I try not to take for granted, and I hope those people on my list know how much I love them right back.

The last few weeks have been tough for several of my dearest friends back east, and it has been difficult for me to do much more than say, “I love you,” and “I’m praying for you,” and “I hope you heal quickly.”

But I also know the deep truth in the rest of the verses in 1 John 3. I wish John had written: “let us not love only with word or with tongue,” because sometimes words are the only way we can love. It has been hard for me to trust that my words are enough, that where I cannot show my love for a friend through my actions, others in my hometown can. There are others who can give the hugs. Others who can bring the meals. Others who can walk the dogs and pick up the kids from school and bring the toilet paper and laundry detergent. And the ice cream. Because sometimes, ice cream speaks joy and comfort and happiness and love all in one bowl. Right?


Want to remind someone that they are loved? I’d be honored if you’d send them this post. I’ll be sharing it on my Facebook author page, and you may share it from there or from the social media links at the bottom of this post. Or maybe you need to pick up the phone and call a friend? Or pick up some flowers for your spouse at the grocery store? Or pick a date on the calendar to visit with each other?

I’d love to hear your creative ways to show others you love them and also the beautiful ways others have reminded you recently that U R Loved.

Tree signs: Love never fails

Welcome to week three in the tree sign series. If you missed the first two, don’t worry. You may read them in any order.

This week’s sign comes straight from the Bible—minus the exclamation points:

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Love never fails. –1 Corinthians 13:8a

You may be familiar with the Bible’s “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. It’s hard to go to a wedding without hearing verses from it. For our wedding, my husband and I wanted to avoid the cliché: “Love is patient, love is kind …”

We intentionally chose different verses for friends to read at our wedding, but we forgot to tell our minister why we were leaving out 1 Corinthians 13. Darn if he didn’t mention it in his wedding sermon. Oh, well.

Don’t get me wrong. These are powerful words, and we should read them with more care than we do. They’re just not my favorite ones in the Bible. I don’t know if I shy away from the passage because of its trite readings at weddings. Or maybe it was the teasings I took anytime a teacher covered it in my childhood Sunday School classes (hope‘s two appearances in this passage never failed to reduce the boys in the class to snickers and stares).

Whatever the reason for my wanting to avoid 1 Corinthians 13, this week’s tree sign sent me digging deeper, all the way back into the Old Testament.

Who will rise up for me against the wicked?
Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt
in the silence of death.
When I said “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
— Psalm 94:16-19 (NIV)

“My foot is slipping.”
Earlier today, I read a heartbreaking story from my hometown of a homeless, eight-year-old boy. He was hiding in a recycling bin to escape his abusive step-father, and when a stranger found him, his plea for help must have sounded a lot like, “My foot is slipping.”

God’s unfailing love protected that little boy, and now he and his infant brother are living with an aunt. She is rising up for him. The community is pouring out its own love, and there are ways we can all help them (see the end of the article).

A friend of the aunt said it best, “The fact that he survived, the fact that he is where he is and is able to articulate his story, and be brave—that speaks a lot about him and the plan that God has for his life.” Not just God’s plan, but also God’s unfailing love.

How many ways can we cry out to God, “My foot is slipping”? And how many more ways can God show unfailing love?

Sometimes it’s easier to see the ways humans fail one another than to see the ways we love and support one another. It’s even easier to become blind to God’s unending, unstoppable love for us.

That’s why this tree sign is so special. Love never fails!!! Yes, with the emphasis of three exclamation points. Love never fails!!!


Have you ever felt God’s support in response to your cry, “My foot is slipping.”? Do you have a story of unfailing love you’d like to share below? I would love to hear your stories of how “love never fails!!!” is true for you.

For my nephew and his bride on the eve of their wedding

My dear nephew and his bride,

Your wedding is tomorrow. You won’t have time to really read and take this in today, but it’ll be here when you do.

It’s hard to imagine that the little blond baby I fell head over heels in love with at the hospital not that long ago is ready to take a bride, but the two of you have declared your intentions to walk together from now on. Your new life as husband and wife begins tomorrow.

To wish you well along your journey together, I’ve asked some friends to share their advice with the two of you. I’m including some of my own thoughts, as well as some “white wedding-y” flower photos, all taken since you two first met.

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You may hear, especially this first year, that the first year of married life is the hardest. That may be true for you, as your final year of college will bring its own special kind of stress and difficulties. But don’t get complacent after you’ve made it through the first year: it’s not necessarily true that the first year is the hardest. Marriage will always take effort. Expect ups and downs throughout your marriage. There will be good days and bad days, good years and tough ones. Agree from the start that you will weather these together.

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Marriage is not a contest or a competition. At times, one of you may bring more to the relationship than the other. Accepting that you won’t always contribute 50-50 will save you from many tears and frustrations.

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You are at the same time still young but also grown and ready to make life-changing decisions. Know that you will both change—possibly a lot—in your twenties. Your hopes will change. Your dreams will change. Your goals will change. May you grow stronger together as you encounter these inevitable changes.

Because you are marrying now, before you have figured out your vocations and avocations, you will likely have to make sacrifices for the happiness of your spouse. It may feel too hard sometimes to put your personal dreams on hold, but expect there to be times (maybe years at a time) when your personal goals and dreams do not get to come first.

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I know it’s hard to imagine not wanting to be together all the time, and you should enjoy each other’s company and enjoy many of the same hobbies and activities. But also give yourselves time and space to cultivate interests that you don’t both necessarily share. Think of this space in your marriage as a way to bring out the best in each other. As counterintuitive as it may seem, these differences can enrich your marriage and make you stronger together.

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Your marriage isn’t all about you. You are part of something greater than just the two of you. I hope you’ll find a way to bring your strengths as a couple to share with those around you. And I hope you’ll lean on your faith to help you learn how you are to love yourselves and others as fully as possible. Henri Nouwen wrote it beautifully:

… I have love to offer to people, not only here, but also beyond my short, little life. I am a human being who was loved by God before I was born and whom God will love after I die. This brief lifetime is my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, grow in love, and give love.

Finding My Way Home, 139-40

Speaking of faith, I hope you won’t ignore its importance in your relationship. God’s love is a perfect love and can teach you how to love each other even when you don’t really much like each other. A faith community is also a vital way to grow together, develop abiding friendships, and find mentors and other couples who can hold you accountable for your actions within your marriage. Many of my friends who married young attribute their successful marriage to a strong faith and the communities of faith that have supported them in difficult times.

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I could ramble on, but I’ll stop here. I wish you joy. I love you. I pray you will, together, be exceptional.


As promised here is some advice from friends across the country. Some have had long and happy marriages. Some have learned hard lessons in divorce and remarriage. All have walked the road ahead of you and have wisdom to share with you.

On changing (for good and for bad)

  • “My grandmother told me when I got married (at 19 years old) that whatever they do when you get married they will keep doing. Whatever they do NOT do, they will continue NOT doing. Don’t expect people to change when you get married.”
  • “We are always developing as individuals and as couples. Never stop trying to ‘get to know’ your partner. You are both new people every day.”

On inevitable fights

  • “Using slogans such as ‘How important is it?’ would have resulted in fewer stupid arguments and less resentments resulting from the petty stuff we might notice when we are younger.”
  • “Pick your battles. Everything is NOT worth a disagreement. This advice has helped us to have almost 20 years of happiness.”
  • “I think the word ‘blame’ should be eliminated from the vocabulary. The idea of blame is intrinsically crippling. That is why it is spelled B LAME.”
  • “My mantras: 1. Accept and embrace imperfection, in myself and others. 2. Refrain from personalizing—other people’s feelings are usually not due to you. They are feelings. 3. Pause before reacting. 4. Choose encouragement, not criticism. 5. In discussions, say ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You should’ 6. Approach your days with kindness, savoring and gratitude. 7. Give as you would like to receive. (an iteration of the Golden Rule, of course!) 8. Let go. Let love.”
  • “You don’t always have to be right. In 35 years it won’t matter anyway. When we got married our theme was ‘Divorce is not an option.'”
  • “My advice is to be honest and truthful but not hurtful in the process. Remember, the person you are speaking to holds the other half of your heart. So treat it with care.  There is a gentle way to address all situations and you can NEVER take back words said in spite disguised as honesty.”

On compromise

  • “Marriage is a compromise where things don’t turn out like she or he wants, but instead how the couple, as one, wants. It’s worked for 32 years and counting. There’s no more you and me; it’s now us and we.”

On your future together

  • “Talk about money, and save money together. Start now, not later.”
  • “Do not hurry to have children.” [I would add: be willing to revisit your decision not to have children, as your desires may change over time. They may not, but be open to an honest conversation on this huge decision.]
  • “Make time to do things together. Plan mini vacations.”
  • “Remember that in marriage there are many ups and downs. There will be days you wake up and are so in love with your spouse and others you can’t seem to stand to look at them, but these times are normal and will ebb and flow. It doesn’t mean the love is gone; it returns! Stay patient and work and remember it isn’t always easy, but with God in the center of your marriage, you can conquer all!”

On luck and blessings that will keep your marriage going

  • “I know this isn’t a very Christian perspective, but I feel extremely ‘lucky’ that our marriage has been what it is. We were so young and naive.”
  • “These are the only things I can think of that are authentic and sincere: May you laugh together every day, find things you love to do together and separately, and grow up together.”

To all the rest of you reading this, what advice, blessings or well wishes would you add to send off this young couple into their marriage?