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Living Like Lew #1

Here’s a piece of shocking news: We all have imperfect parents. If we have kids, then we are the imperfect parents. And, we’re raising the imperfect parents of the future.

But don’t despair, science has proven that we are optimists (see Time) in spite of our routine failure. That optimism keeps us trucking along toward better days, improved relationships, happier children. That optimism also fuels the stories I’ll be telling about my Dad. He has been the most imperfect influence and human example of God’s love I’ve known in my life. His teaching (he was a pastor) undoubtedly shaped me, but it was his living that left the deepest impressions on my memory and my spirit. He describes himself as “A sinner, saved by grace” and he’s right. But so am I.

In honor of him for Father’s Day I’m writing Living Like Lew. A handful of truth and a pocketful of wisdom from my eighty-two-year-old dad for all you parents or parents-to-be out there.

Lesson from Lew #1 — Stay head-over-heels in love with your wife.

“Pssst,” Dad whispered. I looked up from my homework.

“Want to go into town with me?”

I had a hunch what this was about. “Sure, anything to get out of geometry.”

“Don’t say anything to your mom, but I want you to see something and give me your opinion.”

I gave him the silent sign of co-conspiracy and we were off. K-mart. JC Penney’s, maybe.

We pulled into the K-mart parking lot and veered towards the Women’s Department. Clothes I’d never allow touch my teenage frame hung on racks and rounders. I took a sheepish glance around to see if anyone who’d recognize me might be there. But then, I realized they told people that they saw me at K-mart, that meant they were at K-mart, too. I began to breathe easier. No one wanted to get embarrassed by embarrassing someone else — it’s an unwritten high school rule of inception and no one wanted to start that kind of mess.

I followed my dad, and watched his particular gait. He had a happy bounce in his step, a confidence in his stride. In his late fifties he had figured out the mystery of being at ease with himself. Dad led me to a rounder of feminine, flouncy sundresses. There were flower prints, ribbons, ruffles. It was the eighties after all.

He seemed to know what he was going for and found lifted the hangers of the dresses in question.

“What do you think of these?”

Yes, they were awful, but his sky-blue eyes sparkled and I decided to be nice.

“I think I like the red and white striped one with the ribbon at the neckline,” I said as I tried to find details that I thought mom would like, or not. “Oh, she won’t like that blue one — she thinks breast pockets on women’s clothing are stupid’What woman is ever going to use a pocket there, right smack on her chest?’,” I mimicked her and dad laughed.

“Yeah, you’re right. But I was partial to this one, actually,” he held up a white on white striped light cotton dress with an elastic, ruffled neckline and a cute belt at the waist. It boasted yet another ruffle near the hem of the full, knee-length skirt.

“I like that, too,” I agreed, “I think she’d like it.”

“Well,” dad set the hangers on the edge of the rack, a process I had to help him with. The man could wield tools of the carpentry trade with ease but his fingers bumbled with the turning hook on the clothes hangers. “I thought the white one would go well with these. I picked this up the other day for her birthday.”

He reached into his pocket, sneaky guy, and produced a white velvet, brass trimmed box. He opened it with just a hint of panache to reveal a pendant of aquamarine and matching earrings set in white gold.

“Oh, then the white one — these wouldn’t go with the red one. Can I see?”

He handed me the box and I looked it over. Pretty things. My dad loves pretty things — flowers, painting, jewelry–but he loves giving pretty things to his wife best of all.

“Very nice, Dad!” I said in encouragement, “She’ll love that. And the dress.”

I helped him find the right size because he never knew her size, and turned to go.

“Let’s look and see if there’s some sandals that might work, too,” Dad suggested. Big spender.

We bought sandals and a light sweater (since May tends to be unpredictable), a small bottle of lotion and a card. All for his wife, nothing for himself or for me.

The next morning was Saturday. I slept in and woke to the rustling of plastic bags. I peeked down the stairwell and noticed Mom having her toast and coffee at the kitchen table looking at the just-sprouting garden in the yard and the pasture just beyond.

Dad was nowhere.I knew what he’d been up to, though.

I pushed open their bedroom door. Spread out across their freshly made bed was her new sundress, the sandals placed just-so near it’s hem and the sweater laid behind the shoulders. The morning light pouring in from the window transformed it into the prettiest dress, a proper choice for the queen of the house. I stepped silently to the bedside and touched the hem, checked for price tags (Dad always forgot to remove at least one) and then I joined mom for breakfast, wondering when she’d discover her surprise.


This happened many times over the years. My mom rarely spent money on herself, and dad, who liked to see her “all dolled up” enjoyed spoiling her. They were in their fourth decade of marriage while I was in high school. They have now been married sixty-one years. But not just married – in love. My dad writes her love poems and gives them to her on his birthday. He cherishes his wife.

This past fall, I spent two weeks away from my husband and family to watch out for my dad (he’s had a stroke) and take care of him and the house while my mom was recovering from hip-replacement surgery. I cooked freezer meals like my name was Stouffer and every evening Dad and I brought mom dinner. We’d stay in the room with her to keep her company until it was time for me to help her get ready for bed. Then we prayed and said goodnight. Another impression stamped deep into my spirit during those vigils as we held hands and appealed to our Savior. I’m certain what lifelong love looks like.

I returned home and my husband, sneaky guy, repainted our bedroom, had the carpets cleaned, replaced my kitchen sink and leaky faucet with a brand-new set. AND, in my clean, fresh-paint smelling bedroom, I found a dozen red roses in a vase on the bedside table. My Dad’s constant, faithful, sometimes giddy, love for my mom might have guided me to fall for the most unlikely, suitor in the line-up — and I am all the better for it!

The parenting lesson?

“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” {Ephesians 5:25, Colossions 3:19}

It was lived out in front of seven children. My parents have five daughters who have all enjoyed happy, long marriages to men who love their wives (between twenty and forty years long!). I believe that whatever may have happened during our tumultuous teenage years, we girls had a deep impression of what it really means to be loved. There were lots of guys that came and went, but the keepers were the guys that our spirits recognized as men capable of true, sacrificial, abiding love. We may not have picked them from the line-up, but our inner-compass did. 

Husbands, cherish your wives. Your daughters and sons desperately need to witness marital love as the Bible teaches it, lived out before their eyes. This is one deposit into their spirits that will guide and protect them long after you have the authority to enforce curfew.

I’ve linked this up with Ann at A Holy Experience as we explore the meaning and applications of the practice of love.



  1. I’m gonna have to pass this on to my daughters. This was sensational! I lost my dad a year ago may 7th. My dad like yours, worshipped the ground my mom walked on. I haven’t had as near a perfect a track record. This was a great reminder to everyone. There is no honor in dishonoring our spouses or children, but in the end like you pointed out, there is no such thing as perfection on this side of the decaying curtain…

    • Thank you for reading it all the way through– it was long. I think there is a risk (perceived and real) in loving like that, but the rewards are greater than we comprehend. He’s no doormat, my dad, either– that’s another misconception. I’m sorry about your lost- so recent. It’s difficult when they age. Mine are far away and I just can’t stand it.

  2. Amy Olmstead says

    I found you! All by myself and on my iPhone! I loved this piece and I love your dad too! We are lucky girls to have him and these memories that bond us and make us who we are… This is great and I will so enjoy reading your work! Yay you!

    • Good job, sis. Navigating this cyber-world is challenging. I’m lost most of the time and excited when I do something right in under an hour! Thanks for finding me. Did you see the button that says you can get it emailed to you? That makes it easier. 🙂

  3. Joy Keezer says

    Alyssa has painted with words the perfect portrait of our Dad! With sincere appreciation of a Man we love dearly, because he first loved us! Thank You!

    • Hi Joy! I’ve got a few more Lessons From Lew that I’m working on, I think you’ll like them, too, when they’re posted. I think its important for us to find ways to see God’s hand at work through our parents, even if our experiences aren’t perfect. I remember Gus Bess said to his Dad, “You’re the best dad I could ever have.” He realized his dad wasn’t the best in the world, but the one meant for him. There’s a lot of grace in that.

  4. Bonnie says

    Hi Alyssa! I really enjoyed this, thank you! What beautiful love your parents have for each other. My parents have been married for 39 years and I tell them it’s the greatest gift they have ever given me. I am so blessed by their love and devotion to one another.

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