Category Archives: Relationships

Ten Big Truths for Every Committed Couple

As a licensed marriage and family therapist and marital researcher for almost 15 years, I’ve come to some big picture conclusions about relationships.  I call them “Big Truths” and penned them on Facebook for my friends and family.  I’ve decided to post them here as well, in case they might be of some support to you and your partner, or your future relationship.  All my best, Kelly Roberts, Editor ~ Red Dirt Chronicles

Big Truth #1:  No one ever really wins the “I did more than you” game. At best, it’s zero-sum…but not really. Because even in a stalemate, ill will can be generated. Continue reading Ten Big Truths for Every Committed Couple

Navigating the Baumstamm Sagen Challenge: A Beginning Metaphor for Newlyweds and Their Wedding Party

Our guest bedroom is vacant again. For the past three weeks it was occupied by one of my daughter’s closest friends. She moved in upon a recommendation by her premarital counselor in order to mentally and physically focus on preparing for her wedding; to enter into the relationship with a pure and ready heart.

Her stay seemed like a mere blip on the radar to my husband and I. She left a note on our kitchen counter yesterday morning, however, that made us think it was much more than that to her. She wrote that her stay was “the best wedding gift she could have received.” I think it gave her a small island of calm amid the blustery last days before the big event. I hope so…a bridal retreat from the traditional countdown chaos doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

Earlier this evening, my family and I sat as witnesses while she wed a young man from Germany she met during a high school exchange program several years ago. After we left the wedding, my husband and I ended the day by sitting together in our front yard, watching the cardinals find their final snacks before nightfall and listening to the tree frogs begin their songs. As the night sounds grew louder, my mind played over again a ritual I witnessed after the ceremony. The experience struck me on several levels.

Continue reading Navigating the Baumstamm Sagen Challenge: A Beginning Metaphor for Newlyweds and Their Wedding Party

Adolescent Relationship Skills on a Historical Handcart Trek

by Kelly Roberts

Educational legacies and the encompassing culture

School legend buzz passed down from varsity level big brothers or sisters to elementary siblings is a powerful thing.  By the time the eldest child in a family gets through their K-12 education, the rest know what to expect. And regardless if the information is exact or not, it still helps.  It helps the younger children set their expectations. They learn a person can actually survive high school regardless of their fear of the unknown. They learn about the teachers, the environment, the traditions, the rivalries and the territory.

And in complementary fashion, the school learns about the students.  The staff learns the younger siblings are “connected” to former students of earlier years.  The faculty get to know the parents, the family style, the support structures and unique characteristics.  They gain an understanding of a given family legacy.

If a multiple sibling lineage isn’t in place, however, traditional school buzz is still passed along.  Sometimes parents of single children share stories.  Neighborhood children have “teaching” times where they fill in the new kid on the block regarding the school scoop.  And sometimes, the teachers even fill this role themselves.  They might share with a new group of students “what was done before,” or examples of “prior rituals or ideas from former years.”  In other words – an educational culture is developed and propitiated by those who manage it, who progress through it, and who contribute to its support.

Group trekking across the open praire, pulling their handcarts as they go


But educational cultures don’t just happen in schools.  They develop within families themselves, extra-curricular venues, and within spiritual formal or activity-based settings.  We’ll call this type of education a “naturally occurring” learning system: a system that has been in place for a period of time, that’s accepted by a group or society and is expected based upon precedent.

Naturally occurring lessons are a comfortable and “natural” way to learn about life…and in this post, lifetime relationships.

Such is the case with the Hand Cart Trail excursions planned, managed, populated and supported by families and teens within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Or, as the members of the culture refer to themselves: The “LDS.”  The history, traditions, rituals and legacies woven into the fabric of these Hand Cart Trails encompasses many educational threads.

These teens were given a baby to protect as they navigated the trails


Another essay could be written about character qualities such as determination, planning or leadership.  However, this one is about relationship education for the participating LDS teens.

These Hand Cart Trails provide a three day “workshop” for much of what is needed to prepare for intimate partnerships in the future of those who make the trek.  One location for these journeys taking place is right here in northeastern Oklahoma…on an 80,000 acre Pawhuska ranch owned by the Sooner Cattle Company.

History of the Hand Cart Trails

People of the Mormon faith used handcarts to move their belongings and supplies across the U.S. in the mid 1800s as they made their journey toward Salt Lake City.  There were many hardships, joys and challenges experienced along these treks. As part of a historically based “coming of age” transition into adolescence, LDS groups across the U.S. now re-enact the Handcart Treks.  Included in these 3 or 4 day journeys are games, lessons and activities.  However, the learning many times takes on a life of it’s own.  Relationship education lessons are taught to hundreds of LDS adolescents although the concepts are never named as such.

Lessons Learned on the Trail

The open prarie terrain can get rough, and pulling the hand carts is no easy task


The learning context for these teens is hard core.  One thing you’ll notice by the photos is that the participants don period dress for the journey.  Although treks can take place at various times of the year, the featured excursion happened in early summer and temperatures hit the 90s…or higher.  And, just as their ancestors did years ago, those involved pull the handcarts by hand across the bumpy bunches of Love and Native prairie grasses for three full days.

The terrain is rough, the wind is hot, the clothes are heavy…and a few of the lessons taken in are detailed in the following text, along with the explanation of how they are delivered:

The role of mentors – New experiences such as this particular trek can throw adolescents for a loop.  Although they are equipped with the energy and the attitudes to accomplish the task before them, they have not yet covered the territory.  The mothers, fathers, or community leaders accompanying them on the journey have.  The proper supplies to pack, contingency planning, expectations for particular parts of the journey, and how to set the pace are all lessons the mentors have previously learned.  And, as they hand over that knowledge to those who have never made the trip, they also build relationships with the teens.

As the teens learn to trust the mentors, they learn they are readily accessible resources for life wisdom beyond the open prairie.  Therefore, when rough patches come along in the future, the teens will have already had a history of working with mentors – seeking out advice while navigating the bumps along the proverbial future-marriage trail.

Negotiations of Responsibilities

In order for any large operation to be successful, there is a dividing up and a negotiation of various roles and responsibilities.  If someone in charge of water neglects their duties, the group suffers.  If someone in charge of repairs isn’t providing regular maintenance checks on the carts and equipment, the group could later be halted until repairs are made.  If the cooks aren’t prepared, then the group isn’t energized for the next leg of the trek.

Roles and responsibilities are one of the twelve core areas marriage preparatory education should cover (Olsen & Olsen-Sigg, 2000).  Practicing under the big sky…and being successful…lays the groundwork for future hope of success.

Fun and Friendship

One of the major components of the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) is a lesson entitled “Fun and Friendship” (Stanley, Markman & Jenkins, 2004).  So how did this particular group experience a little fun on the grueling, sweltering trail?  Well, it so happens that they came upon a river just about the time they felt they couldn’t go any further.

A young pioneer rests in the shade after cooling off in the river


If you know anything about teens on a hot day with a water source around, you know what happened next.  Was this supported by the mentors?  Absolutely.  They joined in as well.

Will they teens remember this?  Absolutely.  Will they remember that they adults joined in the fun?  I’m not sure, but their instincts may remember.  At some point when things get tough in their future marriages and they see a “river” ahead, instinctively taking the option to jump in could be enough to kick-start their relationship with relief and renewal.  Resting together doesn’t hurt either.

Empathetic Response Toward Each Other

One of the most intense and “grown up” lessons learned on the trail took place as a surprise to the members who were on their first trek.  As happens in traditional “ropes courses” during a team building exercise, there are certain elements that have a high level of difficulty.  The trail was no different.

About half-way through day two, the group encountered an exceptionally steep drop of approximately 75-100 feet down the face of a ridge in order to continue on their journey.  And…they there was an equal rise to go back up on the other side…to get through the entire area and back onto the trail.

It took all the energy, ingenuity and resourcefulness the group could muster to move the entire cart train down the face and back up again.  They struggled, problem solved and stopped to rest when they could balance the carts in a safe place…all the while facing the reality that if someone slipped or stumbled, it could impact many others in front or behind them.

Cavalry commissioning males into the Morman Battalion. Yes, the guy looks like Wilford Brimley.


As the last of the group pulled up and over the second ridge, they were met by soldiers dressed in Cavalry uniforms.  It was quiet on the prairie as the sweating and exhausted pioneers waited to see what was going to happen.  The answer was unexpected, as was the next set of instructions.

The leader of the Cavalry told the group that all the men must go with them immediately – that they had been called into service and they needed to report right away.  With hardly time to say goodbye, they were urged to leave “at once.”

Receiving instructions at the point the Cavalry met the group.


Even worse, the women were instructed that they couldn’t keep the cart train in the high place they were currently positioned.  They would have to turn around and cover the exact terrain they had just navigated without the men.

A description provided by one of the fathers on the trail filled in details of what emotions the young men began experiencing at that point.  His daughter filled in the gaps with the perspective of the women left behind…

From the men’s perspective: They knew how difficult the journey had just been for the entire group.  Their thoughts immediately turned toward their female counterparts.  They worried about them taking the entire train back up and down the ridge.  They worried about how they would manage the tasks they had been assigned.  They worried about their safety.  It was difficult for them to think about their own responsibilities – to protect their territory and hold their commissioned position, when they knew that their counterparts had just taken on twice the load as they had before the change in plans.

Their empathetic response toward those they had befriended on the trail was nurtured.  And, they were able to talk about their struggles with the older mentors who were at their side.

From the female’s perspective: Although the Cavalry commission was “pretend,” the females experienced at least a portion of what it might be like to say goodbye to a partner who might not return – who was leaving on a call of duty and may face danger or challenges unknown. It wasn’t real, but they could imagine what it must feel like for their male counterparts to face life-threatening work.  Again – the empathetic responses toward those they had befriended on the trail was nurtured.  And, they were able to talk about their struggles with the older female mentors who were at their side.

The women also experienced overwhelming feelings of not being able to accomplish their challenge at hand.  When they watched half their group leave, and arguably the physically stronger half, the situation seemed daunting – maybe impossible.

Women pulling carts back up the ridge to safety.


At this point, the oldest female on the trail rallied the troupes.  She gave them what was basically a vigorous pep talk.  She said, “Well ladies – come on!  We know what we have to do, so let’s get to it.  We can do this…I know we can.  YOU can do this!”  To look upon a mentor three or even four times their age and see the confidence conveyed was evidently a powerful thing for the young women.

They figured out what they needed to do, they reassigned responsibilities, they grabbed the handcarts…and with every ounce of strength left in their bodies they returned the entire train to a safer place for camp.


Naturally occurring family life education happens every day.  The Hand Cart Treks provide three challenging days full of memorable experiences that include all the lessons detailed here, and many more.

This article isn’t a scientific analysis of the efficacy of naturally occurring relationship education.  It is, however, an illustration of one of the many ways this phenomenon happens.  And, as many varieties there are of groups and cultures that exist, there are ways in which this education can be delivered.  So my question for you is this: Where in your own community can you help instill or enhance life changing relationship education for the adolescents in your life?

If you come to an answer, then I encourage you to rally the troupes, make the plans, negotiate the roles and set out on the trail to make it happen.  You never know when you’ll meet a river, or be called into duty during your adventure.

Happy trails!

Not-So-Newlyweds: Our First Pet

In all fairness to the fish lovers out there, Lola is not our first pet. However, in my husband’s classification system, a “pet” has four legs and fur. So Lola, our cat of two months, is the first to fit the bill. I’ve never been a cat person, but when I saw this picture in my e-mail with the question, “Does anyone need a cat?,” I immediately fell in love and forwarded the message to Luke to see what he thought.

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey…want a cat?

Luke: Sure!

Me: We would have to buy some stuff and do research on, you know, how to grow a cat.

Luke: Wait, are you serious about this?

After some deliberation, we decided to take the plunge, and after a few phone calls, we were set as the adoptive parents. We made arrangements to pick up our new pet on a Saturday afternoon. Friday night, we trekked to Petco to gather supplies. We chose a litter box and scoop, water and food dish, and food that stated it would help her not get hairballs. If we weren’t apprehensive enough about hairballs and hair in general, the gentleman checking us out warned us that our new kitty might be too nervous to eat, and the new food might make her sick, and had we checked on her shots because we didn’t want her to get heartworms, etc., etc., etc. We left with mixed feelings about what we were getting into until we got her home. Continue reading Not-So-Newlyweds: Our First Pet

Young Oklahomans Speak: How Do You Decide The Appropriate Age For Marriage?

 Most of the time, you’ll find first person commentary on the Red Dirt Chronicles.  Today, however, I’m going to share with you a “third person” report in full because it explores a specific question directly related to a cause for higher divorce:  That is, marrying at younger ages than the general national average.

In Oklahoma, our average age at first marriage has measured steadily for the last 10-15 years around 18 months to 2 years younger than the national average.  And, research shows that those who marry in the 18-22 (approx) age bracket tend to get divorced more, and more quickly, than those who marry a little later (25-26ish).  Professor Emeritus Robert Spector of the University of Oklahoma once said in his family law lecture, “There is one solution to immediately affect the divorce rate in a downward trend.  Simply raise the legal age of marriage in the State of Oklahoma to 21.”  And although this statement was provided in a way where those in the classroom understood it was not a change likely to happen, the truth still remains: By and large, young Oklahomans make decisions to enter marriages earlier than their national peers and our divorce rate is generally one of the top three in the nation.

Of course many factors are in play related to this situation.  Some cite religious factors related to the struggle between being encouraged to abstain from sexual intercourse versus the physical strife to do so in speeding up the decision to marry.  Others cite more traditional views and modeling of parents who also married young and see no problem, many times rightfully so, in marrying at younger ages.  And finally, many anecdotal conversations with youth under thirty cite varying degrees of pressure (and many cite extreme degrees) from their families of origin – encouraging them to “make the next step” toward their life narrative of finishing school, getting married and having children. And there is always the factor of teenage pregnancy sometimes leading to marriage.

Two years ago I was contacted by a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension educator in Dewey county.  She was concerned because anecdotal observations in her particular area led her to believe that students may be marrying even younger than they were a decade ago.  She asked me to consider setting up a study to investigate this question.  I hired an undergraduate research assistant to pull a clean copy of marriage and divorce records for the state so we could see if there were shifts toward a downward age trend.  I’d like to note that this study was funded by the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative and we are very grateful for their contribution to our efforts.

While our findings showed that there were no shifts toward marrying younger, we did decide to look into the general questions of “why.”  We felt if we understood factors related to decision making about marriage, we could then consider what was, and was not within, the control of any intervention to make change.  So, Dan Hubler, my graduate research assistant and Kate Kirk, my undergraduate assistant and I went on road trips.  Three to be exact. Continue reading Young Oklahomans Speak: How Do You Decide The Appropriate Age For Marriage?

Diagnosing Your Own “Communication Breakdown”

photo used by permission

In 1970, I began kindergarten in a small town in mid-southwest Oklahoma.  At the same time I was learning letters and running around in the aisle to avoid the swinging ping-pong paddle when our teacher got mad, Led Zeppelin released their now-classic hit, “Communication Breakdown.”  One of the more compelling lines in that song is: “Communication break-down….drives me in-sa-a-a-a-a-a-a-nnneeee!!!” Then cool riffs begin to play, and we’re rocking to the rhythm once again.

I have a love/hate relationship with that song.  I love the music.  The lyrics are way too real, however.  Every day I silently witness communication breakdowns and at times they really do drive the parties insane.

I heard a story on NPR yesterday over a gentleman who is trying desperately to instill some peace talks in the Middle East.  He said, “If the enemies can first agree on what is wrong, THEN we can begin making progress.”  That’s true, isn’t it?  If you are having a difficult time deciding exactly where you are struggling with communication, then you might feel lost in trying to improve things.

Therefore, I’ve decided to give you a bullet point list today…just a few things that tend to happen frequently when people have communication problems.  If you find yourself in this list, then perhaps you can find a way out: Continue reading Diagnosing Your Own “Communication Breakdown”

Not-So-Newlyweds: The Life of a Commuter


As mentioned before in this series, my husband is a commuter. When we were both offered jobs the same week in towns an hour apart, we couldn’t pass up the opportunities before us. So, Luke said he was willing to drive, and we live in the town where my job is. I am extremely grateful he is willing to make this sacrifice. I like the comment one of my coworkers made when she learned about our arrangement: “That’s a real man.” Luke’s ten weekly hours on the road has become a chapter of our married life, and since the “Not-So-Newlywed” posts are usually from my perspective, I wanted to give Luke a chance to share some thoughts. I interviewed him on the way home from work one day that I had tagged along, and here are some of the little-known-facts of the road from the perspective of a commuter.

JB: Let’s start with something positive. What is the most enjoyable part of commuting?

LB: I would say it’s the drive home. I get to decompress from the day and sort out my thoughts. Having that hour before I get home allows me to be more involved at home when I get there instead of vegging out in front of the TV for an hour.

JB: So, what do you do to pass the time while you’re driving?

LB: I think a lot. I process what has happened at work and problem-solve customer issues I’ve seen during the day. I think about plans I have for that night and for the future and projects I want to work on.

JB: What’s the strangest thing you do while driving? Continue reading Not-So-Newlyweds: The Life of a Commuter

The Sock Contract

Tyler Garcia had been gently occupying the edges of my youngest daughter’s friendship circle for quite some time before he asked her out on a date.  Evidently, he had been working up his nerve for a while.  I knew after the first date, however, that this young man was a possible candidate for a longer stay in our life.

I knew after their first anniversary that he might be a possible candidate for a much longer stay in our life.

And, I knew after three Christmases had passed that he might be a possible candidate for a permanent stay in our life.

I knew this because for his first Christmas as Rylee’s boyfriend, I got him a coffee cup with musical notes on it.  I told him that he “could keep it in the cabinet and use it when he was visiting.”  I did that because we were both musicians and thought it was a way to connect with him.  He took care of the cup, and over the years finally took it when he moved into his own apartment.

During their second Christmas together, he got me a coffee cup with musical notes on it.  As I opened it, I smiled because my daughter’s boyfriend had reached back to connect with me across our commonalities.  We both loved coffee and music, and he had said with his gift, “Hey, I’m glad we have this in common.  Now I’m returning the favor.”

After their third Christmas together, I was in the middle of the “Christmas gift-wrap chaos” and had been cleaning for several days.  I kept picking up a pair of really cool socks that I thought my eldest daughter, her husband, my youngest daughter or her boyfriend had forgotten.  By the fourth day the house was clean and things were mostly back into their post-Christmas place…except for the pair of mystery socks.

They were lying on the countertop next to the coffee pot.  I picked up my phone and called my youngest.  I had deduced that someone had gotten them for Tyler because they had black plastic hipster framed glasses on them.  So our conversation went something like this: Continue reading The Sock Contract

Is “Falling Out of Love” The Deathblow to Your Marriage?

Editor’s Note – this post is read between 30 and 80 times each day. We’ve received four or five series’ of correspondence about the content, and others have quoted and posted it in various internet venues.  I’m reposting it because there might be something of value for you to pass along to others.  The topic is a timeless one, and we hope there are still people who can find the information useful. Thanks.

Just over a year ago, I was sitting in a meeting room in the Edmond Public Library. Across from me was a friend of a friend of a friend who had been referred to me for a class assignment. He had agreed to a one hour interview over the topic of his in-progress divorce proceedings and questions related to seeking help before he and his wife finalized the process.

I felt protective of him in some ways because all the walls of the room were glass and our activity was visible, although not audible, to the other people in the library. However, he seemed to be holding up pretty well emotionally, even as we worked through some of the more sensitive questions. His face began to change and contort, however, when he related “the ending discussion” with his wife. He recounted that every time she brought up a problem in their relationship and stated that ‘she wanted out’ he had countered with a way they could fix the problem.

But then she ‘brought the hammer down.’ She told him that she wasn’t in love with him anymore, and hadn’t been for a long, long time. “And when she said that,” he recalled quietly, “I knew there was nothing I could do. You can’t change someone’s feelings. It was over.” He paused and stared at the table for a few moments. I asked him if he needed a break. Continue reading Is “Falling Out of Love” The Deathblow to Your Marriage?

“It” Isn’t “What It Is.” “It” Is What You Think, Feel and Do.

A human being can attach a reason to anything. For example, I could have attached the reason for writing this post to the fact that I’ve now spotted at least seven different varieties of sprouts emerging in my garden. But I won’t.

Rather, I’ve decided to attach a reason to this, my 887thth post published here on the RDC. I’ve decided that for my 887th post, I will write a full-blown rant about a cliche that just won’t die.

In 2007, I noticed that the cooler students I had started dismissing or explaining life’s little mishaps or problems with these words: “It is what it is.” For a while I thought, “Okay, that’s their way of accepting life circumstances. Of having a strong internal locus of control. Of dealing with unfortunate circumstances. Go, you.”

But of course the cliche spread. Who knows how long it had been growing across the U.S. before I focused in on the communication phenomenon. In 2008 Douglas McCollum wrote a GREAT article about how the cliche was used in the sports world.

My favorite paragraph included these words:

The phrase is popular with today’s sports figures because, like all clichés, it helps them avoid speaking about the essence of anything. Queried about whether a key fourth-down decision by coach Marvin Lewis had cost his team a game last fall, Bengals tackle Levi Jones sought cover: “It is what it is. We didn’t win the football game.” Likewise, when Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was disinclined to talk about how he’d eased teammate Shaquille O’Neal out of town, he went for the handiest refuge available. “It is what it is, man,” he told reporters. “I’ve just moved on.” Even retired players have a hard time shaking the habit. “It is what it is,” Cal Ripken Jr. told the Baltimore Sun last year after being voted into the Hall of Fame.

In 2009, I found myself gritting my teeth when I heard people throw “It is what it is” around as if it were an explanation that secretly communicated what they really felt on a higher plane so that the only response I seemed to muster was nodding my head as if I had, indeed, got the meaning loud and clear.

By the time 2010 rolled around, I decided that if our world actually had word balloons floating over all the heads of humanity spelling out what they said, I would patent an official Word Balloon Gun and run around searching for “It is what it is” somewhere within their dialogue.  Should I locate that phrase, I would look through my scope, pull the trigger and blow that entire word balloon to bits.  I fantasized in my head that I was the word balloon police, and that phrase was felony level behavior. Continue reading “It” Isn’t “What It Is.” “It” Is What You Think, Feel and Do.

The Tale of Two Gingers and Two Frenchmen: Semantics and Secondary Growth

From the back of the line inside a trendy, suburban Starbucks, I had a vantage point to observe the scene and plenty of time to do it.

A young couple stood face to face in front of me. His cream colored sweater emitted the scent of a spicy cologne. Her soft, strawberry-blond curls were tousled and the front of the locks around her face were anchored into place with a bobby pin or two.

DeusXFlorida - Starbucks photo

Photo by DeusXFlorida – via Flickr, some rights reserved.

His shiny clean face smiled intermittently toward her soft, honey tinged and translucent face, sans any hint of makeup.

My brain classified tha=eir appearances as a “Ginger” and a “Frenchman.”  His lightly tinted olive skin and black hair were shiny, too, with freshly applied hair product topping off this perfectly trimmed cut.

Her manner was genteel; his was suave, but matter-of-fact.  My gaze left their image long before their gaze would leave each other.

As I looked toward the table section, I spied a deja vu.  Same coloring, but drastically rearranged.

In the corner table by the shelves full of coffee products for sale sat a Ginger and a Frenchman.  She was tiny and her legs dangled from her chair while her neck strained to reach the tip of a straw poking from her orange juice container.  Her honey shaded, translucent face was kissed completely with a soft dusting of freckles.

She guided her tiny index finger over a reserve of crumbs on the table, then pressed it down over the morsels until they attached.  Once in place, the crumbs were brought to her mouth and sucked off her finger with a giggle as she directed a sideways glance at her Frenchman father. Continue reading The Tale of Two Gingers and Two Frenchmen: Semantics and Secondary Growth

Do People Make Mistakes or Do Mistakes Make People?

“He’s such a jerk. He had a new girlfriend within a month of breaking up with my friend.”

“OMG. Clearly she has no morals.”

“I can’t believe someone would throw a fit like that. She’s crazy!”

Admit it. You’ve made a similar statement at some point in your life, perhaps even recently. I don’t have to look too far back in my own memory to stumble upon a few similarly disparaging comments. In making these statements, I felt justified in my conclusions about someone’s character based on their actions. Sadly, we often find a certain satisfaction – consciously or subconsciously – in pointing out, reveling in, or discussing others’ mistakes or offenses. If this was not the case, we would not have so many disreputable periodicals available for our perusal in the check-out line at the grocery store.

My question is this: How often do you define others by their worst behavior?  I know I’ve done it and I’m certain it’s been done to me. Should we chalk it up to human nature and move on, or should we change the way we respond?

On a blog I follow, MckMama recently explored the issue of defining others by their worst behavior. In the midst of personal pain that society would say easily warrants a hurled insult or twenty, she made a decision to abstain from defining her wrongdoer by his recent hurtful behavior. In her case, the wrongdoer is her husband who abruptly left the family a month ago (mom and 5 kids) and hasn’t spoken to any of them since. She is angry and heartbroken, and she desperately wants to lash out at him and about him. She has thousands of virtual friends who wouldn’t at all blame her , as well as the perfect medium to try him for his crimes. No one can argue that leaving the family was an honorable thing to do. However, MckMama has decided that her pain is no worse than his, even though she doesn’t fully understand the source of the pain or the reason behind these actions. She believes it is her responsibility to preserve her husband’s honor and character during this difficult time, certainly until they can put aside the hurt and get to the bottom of their issues. While he appears to be acting irresponsibly, he is also the same man she married and deserves more than being labeled, judged, and hated.

My own husband recently learned what it’s like to be defined by behavior he doesn’t even remember. Continue reading Do People Make Mistakes or Do Mistakes Make People?

Not-So-Newlyweds: Couldn’t See the Mountains for the Snowflakes

Since I write this series of posts called “The Not-So-Newlyweds Adventures,” one might assume I lead an adventurous life. While I am committed to finding/making adventure in the most ordinary of circumstances, lately Luke and I have felt like we are in a rut.

A boredom rut.

We are young and don’t have kids, yet we find ourselves crashing in front of the TV at the end of a day, wishing we had more interesting things going on in our lives.

For a while, we were unfairly blaming Oklahoma for this. Our conversations centered mostly on the weather, lamenting that outside activities can be challenging. In the winter, no one wants to be outside because it’s too cold, and there aren’t any mountains to make it worth our while. In the summer, it’s too hot to walk outside without needing a shower, which tends to usher us quickly back into the nearest air-conditioned haven. And when the temperature is perfect, the wind is what gets you. It will simultaneously destroy your hair and zap your enthusiasm for the outdoors.

Logically, our thought was that we should escape to somewhere inherently more interesting and less bent toward flighty weather patterns. In an effort to act on that goal, we recently took a trip to Boulder, Colorado. We got a little more “adventure” than we asked for, but I think we learned a bit about how to live our normal days.

If you happen to be a weather aficionado, you may have noticed a snowstorm that hit the Denver area the first weekend of February involving record snowfall that Friday. Undaunted by reports of “blizzard-like” conditions in Western Kansas, we took off on Thursday afternoon. We probably should have been, well, daunted by the idea of driving through it, but we had a hotel reservation that couldn’t be cancelled that close to check-in. So, blizzard or not, we packed up the Honda and said a few prayers. The snow started when we got to the Colorado border on I-70 headed west from Kansas. That last leg of the trip took much longer than it should have because of icy, snow-packed roads and limited visibility, but we arrived in Boulder safely and just before midnight. As we fell into bed that night, dreams of majestic mountains greeting us the next morning danced in our heads.

Instead, what we woke up to on Friday looked much like what we went to sleep to on Thursday: Continue reading Not-So-Newlyweds: Couldn’t See the Mountains for the Snowflakes

Losing Two: Kim Tiderman’s Story

I wrestled with whether or not to write this particular post. The only reason I’ve moved forward, I’ve decided, is because the Red Dirt Chronicles community is so much larger than any one of our contributors’ individual circle of acquaintances. Therefore I thought this post and video could be helpful to someone, somewhere.

Four years ago I received a call from my parents.  They asked me, “Has Drew called you about Kim Tiderman’s family?”  I had no idea what they were talking about and had to ask what he meant.  Evidently, my daughter’s boyfriend at the time (he’s now my son-in-law) had family members who were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver and they were sharing the news.  My father was an elder in Kim’s church and he received the news through those channels.

Ugh…this was so hard.

It was an extremely difficult time that rocked Kim’s family and the whole Tuttle community.  And although I was on the periphery, it was hard for me to watch the pain experienced by Kim’s family members and loved ones.

It’s been four years since that wreck, and Kim recently told her story on a faith-based TV station.  I thought she did a good job, and I thought that if someone had recently experienced a tragedy, it might be helpful to share something of this story.

And, if you are one of those who needs to hear this story because you’ve endured a great loss, then I’m really sorry about that too.



On Marriage – by Alice Woodrome

Editor’s Note:  As we wrap up our week of relationship posts, I thought it might be appropriate to share an essay by someone who is past her fortieth wedding anniversary.  Someone who self-describes her marriage much like a dear researcher I know who says, “I’ve been married to seven different men over my lifetime, and they’re all the same person.”  A retrospective and thoughtful view can be especially helpful when we’re stuck in the moment.  I thank Alice for sharing her perspective.

“On Marriage”

Written on our Fortieth Anniversary

I’ve been married for forty years. That doesn’t make me an expert on long-time romance any more than a man who lives to be 100 is an expert on health and longevity. Sometimes people ask a centenarian what the secret of his long life is, and he may give a pretty good answer, but I’ve heard some lame answers to that question, as well. I even heard one old guy say it was “a cigar a day and a pint of brew.”

Nevertheless, for what they are worth, I have some opinions on long-term relationships to share. If you were to ask me what the secret of a lasting marriage is, the short answer would be “don’t leave – it gets better.”

Of course, that is a simplistic answer for something as complicated as the blending of two personalities. It presupposes that both parties want the union and are willing to learn how to make it work better. If both are committed to making it work, instead of bolting when things go sour, there is a good chance that their first choice of a life partner is the best choice they could have made. It certainly is less complicated than going from relationship to relationship when the going gets rough.

And anyone with a little experience knows, the going does get rough. The euphoria at the beginning of a romance does not last. That head over heels stage where we overlook our partner’s faults eventually fades as the realities of living together set in. Then our spouse’s inadequacies loom large. Differences in interest, perspectives, personality and habits can appear insurmountable, and we seriously question whether we made a wise decision. It happens to most couples, and if more people knew that it was coming and that there is something good beyond it, they might stick it out long enough to learn to communicate – long enough to learn ways to resolve conflicts.

What keeps some couples together through those times when other couples split? It is not love, but commitment, that is the real glue holding them together. I suspect most people who have been married a very long time have fallen in and out of love with their spouses several times. I know I have. It is tempting, especially when we are young, to cut and run during the times when we can’t feel the love. Continue reading On Marriage – by Alice Woodrome

How Shall I Love Thee? By Standing On My Desk.

Have you ever had the privilege of watching “The Dead Poet’s Society?”  Of course, for someone who loves writing, literature, teaching and academia – well, let’s just say it’s a movie I can appreciate.  However, “The Dead Poet’s Society” has themes that numerous people can appreciate for an infinite number of reasons.  In a way, it’s a teaching movie. A movie to inspire you…and to bring you to tears.

I was thinking about a scene last night because I was thinking about Love.  It will take a bit of thought to put this whole thing together, so I hope you are able to watch this clip before we move on:

Even if you have never seen this particular movie, you can tell a great deal of the context by the information in this particular scene.  There was some kind of disturbance that resulted in the teacher being removed, the students are terribly torn about the situation, and it appears that they’ll be returning to status quo school process once again.

As perhaps the most tender, or the most committed student takes the first stand toward loyalty to their former teacher,we are afforded – due to good acting and high quality cinematography – a glimpse into his soul.  His struggle was colossal.  He was visibly shaken at what he was about to do, but he did it anyway.  His hands pressed down on the top of his desk, his body rose and his legs took him to the top of his desk to pledge allegiance to his teacher.

Then, moved by his heroic gesture, others followed.  Every student reacted differently, but the decision was not light for any of them.

They declared their love and allegiance for their teacher by literally taking a stand, and quite possibly risk getting expelled from school. Continue reading How Shall I Love Thee? By Standing On My Desk.

To the Father of Hannah, Who Posted the FB Note: “To My Parents”

Last night an acquaintance of mine posted this video on his Facebook page.  He had retrieved it from Reddit and was heralding the dad’s actions.  Then another acquaintance of mine chimed in and sent a rally cry through her post in favor of the dad as well.

Then I watched that video which was cheered on by two of my Facebook connections…and was filled up with an overabundance of sobering thoughts, one of which was, “Okay, this puppy is going viral I’ll bet.  It will be in the headlines tomorrow.”

And it was.  On the front page of Yahoo’s news stories, the disappointed father of Hannah was featured with a story detailing the contents of the video.  I was still processing quite a few aspects of the particular situation when I ate lunch with two of my colleagues, both of whom were male, both of whom own guns, both of whom were family scientists (one’s research specialization area is adolescents and family) and who both had an opinion about the video.

They liked the idea of a father using the same medium as the daughter to communicate a message to her.  They did not agree with the father’s tactics of sarcasm, one-uppance, shooting the laptop with eight rounds from him and “one from the mother.”  Then the subject changed, and I continued to process the situation through this evening.

So tonight I’m ready to write to the father of Hannah who posted the “To My Parents” note on her Facebook. I’m done with my processing, but I’m sure he’s not close to being done…and I’m thinking about their family.

Here is my letter to you, dad…

Dear father of Hannah:

I watched the video you posted for others to see and thought about you, your wife and Hannah today.  I talked to some friends about your struggle and I read a couple of newspaper articles covering the “news” of your video getting widespread attention.

I would imagine that things are really weird around your house right now.  You’re probably getting quite a few media calls, Hannah is probably getting quite a few media calls too, and I would imagine that your life changed more than you could have imagined since last night.  That’s a big consequence for the decision to make and post your video response to Hannah.  I hope you all are okay through the hulabaloo, because after it dies down you all will have some healing to do. 

How do I know that?  Because of what you wrote, not because of what you said on your video.  Here’s what I’m referring to in case the message is a little lost in all this chaos:

“Today was probably the most disappointing day of my life as a father and I don’t know how to correct the situation.”

Coming from a father who just shot his daughter’s laptop with nine rounds from his .45 caliber handgun, that’s a really open, honest, vulnerable and very real statement.  In an odd way, I’ll bet Hannah could write a good portion of that message as well.  She may not know how to correct the situation either. Continue reading To the Father of Hannah, Who Posted the FB Note: “To My Parents”

Who Are Your Sweethearts?


Papa and Sara, 1963

I Corinthians 13:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited,
5 does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs.

6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8A Love never ends.
13 Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

 (said Aibiline Clark, the maid, to little Mae Mobley Leefolt) 

February has found us all ready!  February, the shortest month of the year, is filled to the brim with special days.  Black History Month, American Heart Month, and Library Month, Groundhog’s Day, The Super Bowl, Presidents’ Day and Presidential birthdays, Spunky Old Broads’ Day, National Visit A Shut-in Day, Leap Day, Freelance Writers’ Appreciation Week, International Friendship Week, along with many others special days all share their glory in the month of February.  My favorite day of the month falls in the middle on the 14th – yes, Valentine’s Day. A little Googling or chacha-ing* will lead you to the story of St. Valentine.  Here is a quick link:

I confess, that in my youth, if there was no one to shower me flowers, chocolates and sweet nothings, I would mope around with a long face each year around St. Valentine’s Day.  That all changed in college, with the help of an intermittent job. Continue reading Who Are Your Sweethearts?

St. Valentine is not the Patron Saint of Debt

Awwww new love!

Editor’s note – this is a “from the vault” release that never stops being relevant for you, your loved ones, or Valentine’s Day…enjoy!

Here we are again. Valentine’s Day has come back around and if you’re like me, the status of your love life is directly proportional to how you feel about the holiday. Lucky for me, I’m now happily married to a great guy. This year I have some conversation hearts in a jar on my desk, a pink and red wreath on my office door, and heart wallpaper on my cell phone. Heck, I will probably even wear red on the actual day. Love is grand! But this hasn’t always been the case. If I were stuck back where I was eight years ago, single and somewhat bitter about love (when I spent Valentine’s Day with a guy friend eating wings at Hooters), I’d probably be tempted to pelt a few snowballs at any happy couple that wandered into striking distance. I will sheepishly admit that in my “loveless” years I may have crudely referred to the holiday as VD.

I’ve heard many times that Valentine’s Day is just a made up holiday to line the pockets of candy and card makers. I can understand why people would say that but I also think they’re missing the point. Is there anything really wrong with taking one day to focus on telling our loved ones how we feel about them?

The key is not to get carried away with overspending and to focus on the point of the holiday, which is to show someone that you love and appreciate him/her. Choose carefully how you share the love. According to my friend Carla, her husband had better not even consider getting her that footed pajama thing she keeps seeing ads for. Apparently, she is not buying the claims that “it feels like a hug”. Even if you can’t afford a giant stuffed bear, Godiva chocolates, jewelry, and two dozen roses for your sweetie, there are still ways to show that you care without going into debt.

Continue reading St. Valentine is not the Patron Saint of Debt

Preserve, Protect and Defend: A Credo for Our Intimate Relationships

John F. Kennedy said it during his swearing in ceremony almost three years before I was born.

Lyndon B Johnson said it after Kennedy died, and again in 1965 with Lady Bird at his side. Her solemn face only allowing a smile after the final word of the oath of office was completed.

Nixon was next, with Pat slightly raising her chin when he said three special words;  followed by Ford then  Carter.  They all said it in their own style, with their own emphasis and punctuation. Slow and steady, with a very Southern flair, or with their best resolve.

Reagan said it  twice while nodding with determination as only he could do; his second round was more subdued and solemn than the first. Then Bush the Elder, and Clinton twice, his first oath completed with a slight grin and classic tightening of his lower lip, the second completed much like Reagan’s second – more subdued and solemn.  Bush the younger twice (interestingly, with the same pace and energy level as the first time) and finally Obama.  Obama’s oath of office was interesting in that there was more than the usual level of cheering from the crowd, Obama smiled a little more than most presidents preparing for the oath of office, and he and the Chief Justice had to repeat a few words in order to get things straight.

But every one of these presidents, and all those before the ones I’ve listed here, took the oath of office on inauguration day, and they all said this:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Many of them ended their oath with, “…so help me, God.”  And, all of them could have certainly used the help of a Higher Power to manage their work.  But one of the strongest portions of all the videos I’ve reviewed was that of each president stating that they would “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution of the United States.

In other words, the elected leader of the U.S. swears to preserve, protect and defend the supreme law of our country…in front of God and everybody.  It’s a very public oath for a very serious job.

Many of those reading this post today will have taken a very public oath for a very serious job of their own – their wedding vows, pledged to their partner in front of God and everybody.  And I’ve been wondering about something.  We know that traditionally couples affirm phrases to each other such as:

I take you to be my wedded wife/husband. To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness.

In other words, they have pledged their faithfulness to “the supreme relationship status” in our country.  But I wonder, would vows be measured and stated any differently if the phrase, “to preserve, protect and defend” were to be included? Continue reading Preserve, Protect and Defend: A Credo for Our Intimate Relationships