The truth about our first year of marriage…

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Our First Year of Marriage…

I don’t tell many people about our newlywed years.  It’s not that I’m embarrassed.  I’m not sure what it is really.  It’s probably fear, fear that people won’t understand or maybe a fear that people will feel hurt by our story.  Yeah.  I think it’s that last one.  We want our lives to encourage and never discourage, to bless and never harm.  But lately I’ve been realizing that our story is important to tell.  Along with other newlywed stories, ours is a testimony of His grace alone.

Our first apartment was a one bedroom/one bath upstairs space with ugly dark brown carpet and a tiny galley kitchen.  Moving in wasn’t hard because everything the two of us owned could be put in the back of Phil’s pick-up truck.

Phil left for work every day at 4:00 pm and returned home at 3:00 am.  I greeted him at the door at 3:00 am as though it were late afternoon.  “Hey Honey, how was your day?”  We’d sit and eat together in the middle of the night.  We’d laugh.  And then we would find solace in each other’s arms.   Every day.  And that ugly little apartment?  Well, we both thought it was lovely.  We had waited…both of us…until the day we got married.  Phil always said the parking lot of that factory where he worked had his tire marks emblazoned near the front exit.

We both agreed I wouldn’t work as long as he was working nights.  Because of his odd hours, if I had a day job, we’d never see each other.  And we couldn’t bear that thought, the thought of not seeing each other, of not being together.  Phil made $9.49 an hour and it was sufficient for everything we needed because we needed so little.

Truthfully, we lived in our own little world.  We were involved in our small church and with our families, but most of our time was just spent together.  And it was wonderful.  Ridiculously over-the-top wonderful.  And maybe that’s the thing most people don’t understand about the first year of marriage…that it has the potential to be wonderful.

We’re blessed with books, radio programs, and testimonies about how terrible those first few years of marriage can be for so many couples, maybe for the majority of couples.  We’re reminded how important it is to hang in there when it’s all so very bad.  We’re encouraged to not give up when everything inside makes you want to give up.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate those testimonies.  We desperately need those testimonies.  But along with those stories, there’s a place for our story too.

We had a simple wedding.  You know, those afternoon cake and punch weddings?  Our actual honeymoon only lasted two nights.  Phil had just gotten the job at the factory, so he only had two days off.  We spent those two nights in Las Colinas, about 30 minutes from our newlywed apartment.  With money gifted to us, we stayed at the Marriott.  According to Phil, we stayed in Room #2614.  He has remembered that room # for almost 28 years.  He says a man will never forget some things…and I’ll leave it at that.

Phil was doing factory work.  I was turning a pick-up truck’s worth of stuff into a home.  But we look back on that time and remember it as being euphoric.  Passionate.  Beautiful.  Rich.

Why were we both so deliriously happy?  For the first time in our lives, the two of us were building something.  Together.  Something bigger than ourselves.  Something vitally important.  Important to God.  Important to our future children.  Important to the people God would bring across our path.

We weren’t building a house.  We could barely make rent.  We weren’t even building careers at that time.  No.  We were building a HOME.  A family.  The two of us were becoming one physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually.  We were learning the joys of putting another person’s needs above our own.

I know.  Some of you are just waiting for me to spill the beans.  Waiting for me to get on my soap box and explain a detailed formula for such bliss.  But a beautiful romance shouldn’t be described with bullet points.  There’s a mystery to it.

Yes, there are basic truths.  Be kind.  Love and honor each other above all others, and I do mean, ALL others.  Above friends.  Above immediate family members.  And yes, above parents.  It would have been a joke had someone…anyone…tried to stand between the two of us.  We were a team.  A unit.  (And just a shout out here to our parents.  They never did anything but love and support our desire to build a strong bond with each other).

We were blessed with the understanding that it’s always a bad idea to try to “fix” the person you’re married to.  So we didn’t bother.   When a spouse suspects he or she is a “project” to be fixed…it’s a romance killer.  Did I say romance killer?  Because that’s exactly what I meant to say.  A romance killer.  We both knew it was our job to do the loving and honoring and it was God’s job to do the fixing.  And the funny thing?  God used all that loving and honoring…to do more “fixing” than our words would have ever been able to accomplish.  And the romance stayed intact.

During our newlywed years, we were especially blessed by our church family and we stayed involved.  We learned from those who were ahead of us on the journey.  We learned from their wisdom and also from their mistakes.

Phil and I once heard a great teacher say, “In marriage, sex is the icing on the cake.  It’s not the cake.”  We understand what he was trying to say but we beg to differ with his terminology.  Sex is not referred to in the Bible as a pleasant afterthought.  It’s not a little “added bonus” to the really important stuff in marriage.  Honestly, sex is the difference between being married and just being friends.  Phil and I didn’t get married so we could share the light bill or file joint taxes.  We didn’t even get married out of respect for each other’s character (though we certainly did respect each other’s character, and still do).  We got married out of a fiery attraction to each other.  God said that it would be so.  It doesn’t take Him by surprise.  Yes, we had good counselors.  And yes, we loved each other in a lot of ways that have nothing to do with the physical.  But we’re disturbed by how much the physical side of marriage is sometimes downplayed, as though it’s “noble” to be above it.  Trust me.  It’s anything but noble to downplay the importance of physical intimacy in marriage.  I know.  Some of you are probably thinking, “But what about when you’re really really old or one of you becomes ill and that activity is no longer on the table?  Is marriage of no value then?”  Of course that’s not what we’re saying.  When it comes to the beauty of marriage, most would agree the latter years are the sweetest of all, the years we will lovingly take care of each other, serve each other.  But make no mistake.  The sweetness of those years comes on the heels of the investments made in the earlier years.

So to all of you preparing for marriage, be encouraged, friend.  Love with open arms and great abandon.  Don’t seek to be served, but to serve.  Marriage is a strikingly beautiful institution, designed to display the deep love between Christ and His church.  We’re not giving up on the beauty of marriage and neither should you.

I hope Phil and I will get to sit together on the front porch for many more years to come.  I hope we’ll live to see grandkids and even great grandkids.  I hope we’ll be able to pass on the things we’ve learned to the next generation, with kindness and a lot of grace.   But God knows the future and we trust Him.

If we do live to be old, I’m convinced I’ll still be able to reach out for his hand and ask, “Sweetheart, on our honeymoon, what was the room #?”  Phil’s wrinkled face will smile, and his green eyes will still twinkle as he softly whispers, “#2614, Dear. #2614.”

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Christmas Sadness

sad Christmas


There’s a problem with this time of year.   Those who experience grief, sadness, or disappointment experience it all the more as the rest of us run around putting up lights, singing of Christmas cheer, and wondering why some people can’t even muster the energy to care about the ugly Christmas sweater party. If you’re grief-stricken, sad, or disappointed this Christmas, I’m very sorry. This column is lovingly dedicated to you.


Have you lost a family member this year? Or last year? Or even ten years ago? When you put up the Christmas tree, do you have to sit down and cry a few times as certain ornaments cause you to recall precious memories of the one who will be glaringly absent from Christmas dinner? Do you find yourself wanting to avoid parties, dinners, or the merriment of the season because you’re just too sad to care? You’re not alone.


When you watch Christmas movies or Hallmark commercials that feature parents and grandparents passing down long-held holiday traditions to their perfectly-dressed children, do you wonder what that life would have been like? What would it have been like to be loved and supported? Cherished? Respected? Do you wonder what people would think if they knew the violence, agony, and difficulty of your own childhood? Do you find yourself wondering why your own parents couldn’t have been more like…well, like parents? You’re not alone.


Did you experience the agony of separation or divorce this year? The one person who promised to never leave you walked right out the front door, never looking back. You wonder if anyone understands the searing pain of loneliness. You’re not alone.


Are you financially strapped this season? Already in debt up to your eyeballs? Behind on bills? Wondering how to pay the electric bill much less buy presents? When people say, “Christmas isn’t about all the presents,” you find yourself thinking, “Yeah. Tell that to my family members.” You’re not alone.


Did you always picture what it would be like when your own kids were grown? Did you envision them marrying lovely and supportive spouses and having beautiful respectful kids? Every Christmas they’d all gather around your table and everyone would be happy. Thankful. Blessed. A life pulled right from the Norman Rockwell picture hanging in the dental office. But it didn’t turn out that way. Perhaps addiction, rebellion, or selfishness crept in and ruined your vision of the picture-perfect Christmas. You raised your kids to be one way. But they chose a different path. I’m sorry. You’re not alone either.


Christmas is a magnifying glass of sorts. When you’re happy, you’re all the more happy in December. When you’re suffering, you’re all the more suffering. I can’t solve that problem. I can’t make the disappointing loved ones in your life less disappointing. I can’t bring back those who have passed on. I can’t go back and give you a more ideal childhood. All those things are out of my control. And out of your control too.


Hallmark movies are great but Christmas is not, nor has it ever been, about a perfect family or a perfect life. Only one person led a perfect life. And blessedly, Christmas is about Him. This Christmas I take joy in celebrating the one who completely understands us and all our disappointments. The one who is not surprised by the suffering, the grief, depression, or even the addictions. I celebrate Christ because He offers us something glorious…hope, redemption, love. A love that never fails. So, here’s to all the bruised and broken. You are loved. Merry Christmas.


Not Much Money? No Problem!

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Are you barely making ends meet? It’s time for some perspective, friend. In 2015, we live in a world filled with social media images. Images of family trips to the beach. Images of European cruises and weekly mani/pedi appointments. Images of new cars and expensive meals out.

And sometimes? Sometimes you may be tempted to think, “The whole world is doing better than we are. My family is just broke. We’re working hard but we’re missing out on the good life. We’re paying the electric bill and saving a little for a rainy day. But there’s nothing left for a summer vacation. Our kids will probably resent us. They’ll get mad when we can’t buy the latest phone or cool clothes. They’ll grow tired of being denied the things all their friends have.”

May I be perfectly honest? Grow up, friend. Seriously. Grow up. Your kids may not be grown yet, but you are. So act like a grown person. Can I let you in on a little secret? A secret to extreme happiness? Grown people don’t cry over what they don’t have. They rejoice over what they do have. They relish the blessings of hard work. They know that eating food several times a day is an indicator of great wealth. And they celebrate that wealth with extreme appreciation. Grown people see cutting a watermelon in the back yard as a moment of family celebration. A life of extreme blessing.

Look at past generations in your own family. Did your grandmother take you on exotic vacations? Did your dad hand you a $700 phone because you were breathing? Did your parents take you out to eat every other night? If they did, that’s fine. Let me clarify. There is nothing wrong with renting a beach house or going on an exotic vacation (if you don’t go in debt to do it). Those are blessings. Wonderful blessings!

But I’m guessing most of you come from families that thought summertime fun meant spraying each other with a water hose. Or eating home-grown corn and tomatoes on the picnic table. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my grandparents gave us underwear every year for Christmas. Our parents didn’t give us everything we wanted. But they were wildly content with their lives and their blessings. They passed that contentment on to us. And we loved them. We loved them beyond what can be expressed in this post.

When our boys were preschoolers, a pack of gum was considered a luxury item. I recently was looking over some old pictures of our days in the trailer park in Texas. Phil turned an old cooler into an amusement park ride. The boys took turns getting into the cooler and then Phil would slowly lift them from the ground while making engine noises. They were delirious with joy. And so were we. Yes, we go on different vacations now. But the joy? It’s that same exact joy.

Kids who have more aren’t necessarily spoiled. Kids who have less aren’t necessarily resentful. No. The truth? It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or barely making it. Kids are looking to their parents to find out what they need in order to be happy. So be thankful. Be appreciative. Be a grown-up. Someday they’ll thank you.
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Go Ahead. Ask Her Out.

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I like college students. A lot. They know tons of stuff you probably don’t know. Do you need to know how to download something? Ask a college student. Do you need to know what “download something” even means? Ask a college student. Do you need to know what equipment to buy in order to download something onto another piece of equipment the size of a thimble? Yep! You guessed it. A college student will help you out.

But before you start feeling useless, just know that college students need us seasoned folks too. This was evidenced by my recent conversation with a young male college student.

“Hey! Mrs. Lisa.”

“Hey there, Jimmy (name changed to protect the innocent or guilty). How’s it going?”

“I’m in a dilemma, sort of.”

“I’m great with dilemmas.”

“Well, there’s this girl I really like.”

“Go on.”

“We’ve been hanging out.”

“Hanging out? Like dating?”

“Uh, not really. You know, just hanging out.”

“Okay. What does that mean actually?”

“You know, like, we eat lunch sometimes after class. I see her at meetings and we text each other a lot.”

“Okay. So, what’s the dilemma?”

“Well, I like her. A lot. But she just thinks of me like a friend.”

“When you go to lunch, who pays?”

“We both pay our own way.”

“Right. Right. Yeah, she thinks of you like a friend because you are just a friend. Let me guess. When you go to lunch, you wear shorts and an untucked free t-shirt you got from a blood drive three years ago. Oh, and you probably wear those flip flops you’re wearing now. Am I right?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Fifty-one years of living, friend. Fifty-one years of living.”

“So, Mrs. Lisa, what should I do? I mean, how can I let her know I want to be more than friends?”

“Well, there’s this archaic concept that still works when tried. It’s called a date. A real date. It’s an actual event, not just a square on a calendar. Here’s how it works. You call her on the phone. You don’t text or video chat or send a Facebook message. No. You call. You say something like, ‘I’d like to take you out to dinner and a movie Friday night.’ If she says she’d like that, you say, ‘Great! I’ll pick you up at 6:00.’ When you pick her up, you go to her door. You wear real clothes. Real clothes, friend. That means khaki pants or jeans. It means a button-down shirt tucked in. It means a belt, socks, real shoes, the whole nine yards. No baseball cap.

It means you pay for everything. Everything. Oh, and your cell phone? It never leaves your pocket. In fact, you’re only taking your cell phone in case the movie theater is overtaken by aliens and you need to call 911.”

The handsome young man agreed to give it a try. I felt certain his efforts would be met with success. Why? Because sometimes a woman is just waiting for a guy to man up and take some initiative. Oh, and she’s looking for moral courage and leadership too. In an era of changing technology, trust me. Some things never change.

My Life as the Easter Bunny

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While strolling through the mall, I saw a 3-year-old girl physically assaulting the Easter Bunny. I know. You think a 3-year-old girl doesn’t possess the physical strength to assault the Easter Bunny. You could never be more wrong. Powerful memories flooded my mind. I’m glad I’m alive to tell the tale. The bunny tale.

It was the spring of 1995. My husband and I were happily living in 480 square feet of cinder block heaven, otherwise known as married student housing at Stephen F. Austin State University. We had just gotten approved by our adoption agency and were excitedly making plans for our first child’s arrival, even though we weren’t sure when he or she would arrive.

We were pinching our pennies until they screamed. Family members and friends were even donating toward our adoption costs. That’s when the local mall manager approached us with an offer too good to be true. $1000 cold hard cash. Unless she expected us to rob a bank or scam old ladies, we were in.

The mission was simple. During a three-week period Phil and I would be the Easter Bunny and photographer at the mall. The pictures I take are always blurry, so Phil would take the pictures and I was left, well, with the bunny suit. When it comes to being the Easter Bunny, there are hard and fast rules, friend. The Easter Bunny doesn’t speak. Ever. He doesn’t eat the free chocolate candy (well, not much of it). And above all? Above all, the Easter Bunny is not allowed to assault small children. I mean, how hard could this be?

I learned a lot in the spring of 1995. Not about children. Not about bunnies and not about free chocolate. I learned a lot about parents. The following scenario was repeated over and over again.

A small child would scream, gasp, and kick as a parent approached me. Phil, desiring to protect his young wife, would often say something like, “Well, looks like this might not be the day for a picture, Ma’am. Maybe when she gets a little older she won’t be afraid.”

But no. The parent would fling that horrified toddler in my lap like a shot put. “Here, Suzie. Sit in the bunny’s lap and get your picture made.”

Guess what? Scared toddlers scream at a decibel that would scare Stephen King. Oh, and that free chocolate candy? It was smeared into my pastel bunny tie while chubby toddler claws tried to rip the heart out of my chest. All the while, the parent would be saying, “Suzie, quit! Suzie, straighten up! That bunny’s gonna get you!”

But see, that’s the problem. The Easter bunny wasn’t allowed to “get” Suzie without going to jail. Phil kindly and enthusiastically encouraged Suzie’s mama to “get” Suzie out of my lap so the large bunny wouldn’t commit a felony. What a guy.

Phil and I made $1000 in the spring of 1995. It wasn’t easy. But the beautiful baby boy we adopted the next January? He was more than worth it. Happy Easter!

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No Ranting About “Fifty Shades…”

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“Fifty Shades of Grey” is nothing to write home about. Are you kidding? Your mother would kill you. But it is one of the most popular book series of all time. So now a movie is coming out. I’m not going to give the book series or the movie credence by explaining the plot or the graphic nature of the writing. It’s not worth that.

When the movie comes out, some of you may be tempted to rant. I understand. What happened to real romance in America? What happened to the slow-burning fire of a life-long love? Why would anyone call graphic sexual abuse love?

I’m blessed to speak and interact with a lot of 20-somethings. And I can tell you the tide has definitely turned over the years. I’m concerned. But when it comes to love, the real question isn’t about “Fifty Shades of Grey” or popular culture’s skewed view. No. The world is the world. It’s messed up.

The real question is much more simple. When it comes to love, what do our OWN lives portray? What are we teaching our children? Oh, I don’t mean what we’re saying. No. I’m not talking about the words we’re using when explaining about love or morality or marriage. No. I mean, what are they seeing? Are we affectionate and selfless with our spouses? Are we givers or takers? When it comes to those we love, do we exchange pleasant words or bitter come-backs? Are young people witnessing the daily blessings of a love that doesn’t give up? Do we make love and marriage look good?

The human heart will always cry out for love. Intimacy. Sex. Passion. Oneness with another person. We desperately want to rescue and be rescued. The whole nine yards. It’s a wonderful mysterious longing. A desire to be one with another person. “Fifty Shades of Grey” is attempting to answer that need. But we can do better. Much better. Our lives can point young people to a passionate fulfilling love that lasts. Vows that are worth taking. Commitments worth keeping. Romance. Beauty.

I know. It’s 2015. But I’m not ashamed to say it. Not at all. Sex is a wonderful, exciting, passionate gift designed for a life-long marriage. Designed for a lifetime of blessing, not momentary hurt and exploitation. So instead of ranting about the new movie, let’s do something far more helpful. Let’s love in such a way that people take notice. C’mon, friend. Don’t give up. Let’s give ‘em something worth talking about.
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Valentine Cop-Outs


Some of our friends have rebelled against Valentine’s Day. “It’s too commercial.” “I don’t need a calendar to tell me to express love and affection.” “My husband knows I love him every day.” “I don’t need flowers or chocolate to prove my love.” “Hallmark doesn’t run my life.” Okay. Is everyone done with the nay saying? Now, let me set the record straight.

Phil and I stand with the full and complete celebration of Valentine’s Day. We do. I’m sorry that a sappy card offends your sensibilities. It doesn’t offend ours. If that heart-shaped box of chocolates makes you feel too commercial, send it to our house. And flowers? I mean, c’mon, what’s not to love about flowers?

If our society has set aside a day to honor love, why wouldn’t we want to jump on board? Of all the things in our current culture that I don’t support, love sweet love is actually something I can heartily get behind. So, if you’re in love, stop with the excuses. Bust a gut, people. Let’s get this done.

Men, if you’re financially strapped, worry not. Write a heartfelt love letter and make cupcakes. 99% of women love cupcakes and love letters. And the other 1%? They’re just pretending they don’t love cupcakes and love letters. I have no idea why.

Oh, and women, if you’re on the receiving end, be gracious and appreciative no matter how small the gesture. My husband and I counseled a young married couple years ago who were having marriage problems. She was feeling unloved. He was trying hard to prove his love. Finally, we looked at the young woman and said, “What would make you feel loved? What could your husband do that would make you feel like he had truly made an effort?”

Her reply was remarkable, “You know that scene in a movie where the guy picks up the woman in a private jet and takes her to some place unexpected like Paris or Rome. Yeah. Now that’s real love and romance.”

We were dumb-founded. Her young husband could barely afford gas and a movie ticket. And now she had dangled this horrific expectation in front of him. That’s emotional abuse and it made him want to quit trying.

Defining romance by what you see in movies is never a good idea. Movies have multi-million dollar budgets. And the guy in the movie is not even in love with his co-star. Yes, I saw the scene where her midnight gaze brought a tear to his eye. But it’s all a farce. He’s an actor. He never takes out the trash. He doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night to care for nauseous young ‘uns. A word to the wise: Never take romantic cues from people who don’t do their own laundry.

A world of people are looking for love. If online dating commercials are any indicator, there are thousands upon thousands who are hoping to meet that special someone this year. So, if you’re blessed to have already met the love of your life, stop worrying about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. Show a little heart. Buy the flowers. Write the note. Buy the woman in your life all four of the Doug and Carlie books. (Ooops! Did I actually write that? At least I didn’t say, “Go to and order today.” Oh, shoot. Now I’ve done it).

And if you get the notion, you can even step out on a limb and take the love of your life to Paris. Paris, Tennessee, is less than an hour from our house. Yes, it has an Eiffel Tower as well as a Pizza Hut. That’s called a Valentine’s Day win!

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