Difficulties and a (step)Mama’s Love

My heart broke last night. It seems like it’s been breaking a lot as of late. This parenting thing is tough. And stepping in as a step-parent? It’s certainly not a role for the faint of heart.

IMG_0378I’ve avoided writing here because I wanted this space to be fun and filled with laughter and joy. My words over at my other site, A Big Umbrella, tend to be more serious, touching those tender places of heartbreak and loss. I wanted this to be my space to try writing with humor and lightheartedness, because there’s a lot of that in my family. And I’m grateful. And honestly? I wanted you to picture my life like a Brady Bunch episode. Sure, there are trials, but they’re fixed and resolved in less than 30 minutes. And there’s a housekeeper who cooks and cleans. Who doesn’t want that?

But that’s not my reality. This first year of marriage has been tough. Not because my husband and I don’t get along — we do. In fact, we get along so well that it freaks. me. out. As in there are days I withdraw a bit not because he’s hurting me in anyway, but rather, quite the opposite. He’s so nice. And sweet. And I struggle to reconcile the reality that marriage can be like this, this good, this easy, this encouraging with what I experienced for fourteen years through my first marriage. That hard. That filled with hurt and sorrow. I withdraw to try and protect my heart from being hurt again as I wait for the proverbial other shoe to come crashing down.

But there is no shoe dropping on this family of mine, on my heart. So why has it been a difficult year?

The kids. And not just any kids —stepkids. Kids carried in someone else’s womb, born and held in someone else’s arms. Someone who chose to walk away.

I’m not here to bash anyone, certainly not my stepkids’ mom. Everyone has a story, and while I know a piece of hers, I will not stand in judgment of it. I don’t know the entire story, and it’s simply not my place to judge.

But I am standing with the repercussions and let me tell you — it sucks. It hurts. And it breaks my heart to see how our actions as parents, as adults, directly impact the kids and the damage divorce leaves in its wake. It doesn’t matter if they’re twelve or twenty-two, divorce hurts everyone, including the kids.

This is the point where well-meaning people step in and ask, so why do it? If remarriage is so difficult, why do it? To which I respond, I fell in love.

img_9493I did. I fell in love with this man that just seemed to fit me. He gets me. He knows how to care for me, how to love me. He respects me and he respects my relationship with my oldest daughter, and has come to love her as well.

But I also fell in love with his kids with their crazy, puppy-like-rolling-all-over-eah-other-energy and constant need to touch me all. the. stinkin’. time. With their sassy attitudes and broken hearts. With their giggles and can’t quite-get-out-of-the-door-on-time-in-the-morning struggles.

Yes, I fell in love with them, too, but it is tough stepping in during these middle years. When hormones speak louder than rationality. When they already struggle to be accepted and included and then I go and change some expectations on them as me and their dad rewrite a new normal.

There are days when the pressure builds and I know if I don’t get some space, some time alone, I may just explode. When the frustration builds as I tell them, for the thousandth time, to clean their rooms, do their homework, and stop farting on their brother . . . Yes. That’s a thing in our house.

IMG_0359But then moments like last night come along. When the one in the middle, my tender guy, sat on the bed doing everything possible to hold back the tears that threaten to spill. Pinching his throat, pushing on his eyes, staring ahead looking his dad straight in the eye without blinking. This one who struggles with anxiety and belonging, whose mind races faster than his ability to speak, who just can’t focus to figure out how to do school, who can’t seem to get the thoughts and things he knows written down on paper.

I watched him and determined – this. This is why I choose the hard road. My mama-bear-love rose up, that deep primal protective love, love that I thought was only reserved for the children born of my body, stood ready to roar against the world who dare hurt this precious boy. Who dare to tell him that he isn’t smart or funny or capable. Because he is.

IMG_0546And this love is not just for him, it’s for all three of these kids that have captured my heart and burrowed their way into my love. The girl who longs for a mother’s love and the oldest boy who just wants to do what he thinks is right.

IMG_0517No, this hasn’t been an easy year. It’s been filled with tears and struggles and frustration. And while it may never be an episode on the Brady Brunch, it’s unfolding as it’s own kind of story. One filled with hope and healing and lots and lots of love. One I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

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My Marriage Did Not Save Me

img_3715Here I sit, about to write a piece on marriage. Who’d have thought that would happen?

Certainly not me.

My first marriage lasted 14 years before it unraveled beyond repair. There was a lot of hurt and pain, sorrow and loss, not something I wanted others to know. But that story isn’t for here, nor is it fully mine to share.

Here I write about my new marriage, this second one. It’s only been four months and twenty-nine days since it began, but I have to be honest . . .
It’s been good.

Wait, what?

Yep, it’s good but don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. Come hang out for a while and you’ll see. We each came to this marriage with a U-Haul full of baggage where we were more likely to trip and topple over each other’s bags than describe these early days as good.

But they are, and I’m grateful. Apparently, the joy seems to live on my face because others are noticing. I keep hearing things like: you look so happy. Or you don’t look so sad anymore.

Life was really tough until a few years ago. I endured such sorrow and heartbreak there were days, months, okay—years when I wasn’t sure the breaking would end. And not only did I not know if it would end, I had no idea how it would end. And if it did, I wondered who would ever want to deal with these leftovers, these tiny bits I had left to give.

Leftovers and broken pieces. Hi! Want a date this life-in-the-middle gal? Yep, that’s a U-haul back there. We’re a package deal but you might get used to it, or try and ignore it like I did. I didn’t know what to do with my mess, how in the world would I invite someone to draw near where they might cut themselves on every piece?

And then there was the loneliness. It was there all along, lingering near the fringes. Crying myself to sleep, wondering if life would ever be good, the kind of life described in the Bible. Will I see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living? An abundant life? I wanted that. And I wanted what my friends had—to be married to their best friend.

I used to laugh about that. Well, more of a cynical chuckle, really.  Surely, they’re lying. There’s no way they’re really best friends. That’s just what Christian couples say. I lived so long with life outside my door looking vastly different than life behind my door, I wondered if life behind their doors was actually anything like mine.

Perhaps you can relate.

Life crushed my tender heart, and in the squeezing temptation poked and prodded at my heart to seek out someone to make me feel better, to fix my woes, and tend my wounds. It whispered that I could only be whole as part of a couple. And I started to believe the whisper.

So when that magical day arrived and I met someone online. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. We exchanged pleasantries and quickly learned we had much in common, more than seemed possible. The fairy tale romance began and my prince finally came and saved me from this life of loneliness.

Hold. the. phone. That’s not exactly what happened.

Yes, I met a wonderful man who is kind and gentle and funny. But he didn’t save me. My relationship with Russ is restoration, but not salvation. Only Jesus saves. Russ is more like the icing on a yummy cupcake than the ingredients that created the cupcake in the first place.

Okay, he’s more than frosting, but you get my point.

Before I married my sweet husband (see what I did there?), I did a whole lot of work on my own to prepare to become his wife. I didn’t want to believe that whispered lie that I would never be whole on my own. I longed for wholeness and healing, to be free of the weights of my baggage that wore me down because I wanted a healthy relationship this time around. Marriage is hard enough without that U-Haul truck of stuff dragging us down.

I’m learning that marriage takes intentional work to create a safe place for each to succeed and fail, a place where unconditional love reigns and hope resides.

But when we drag in our past without seeking healing—all those feelings of abandonment and betrayal, bitterness and anger—we are headed right for disaster.

In our early days, I told Russ that I didn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend.

Poor guy, he had no idea what he was getting himself in to.

I used to freak out. A lot. I was scared. What if he hurts me?  I was uncomfortable. If he really knew me. I was insecure. He’d be better off without me. I was filled with doubt. This isn’t going to work.

I started to tell him that it was just too hard, that I wasn’t sure I could get past my own hurt and brokenness to give him anything. I figured maybe I should just walk away.

He told me I could do that, but he would simply follow me.

Sigh.

I know, right?

When he said that, I realized this relationship might be worth the risk. But there was work for me to do. First, I turned away from the whispered lie that I was not enough on my own, and turned toward the One who makes me whole.

No, it’s not Russ’s job to fix me. If I relied on him, disappointed would reign because he is, after, all, human. Prone to mistakes and blunders, just like me. Not because he’s mean or hurtful, but because he’s broken, too, and needs his own healing. No, I had to do the work and purge my junk so I could make room for what was to come. The good stuff.

I didn’t want to stay broken.

I didn’t want to be bitter.

I didn’t want to live leery of other’s intentions, especially his. Especially if there was any hope of a future together.

So I did the only thing I knew to do: I leaned into those broken places and embraced my heartache, trusting God to be faithful to His Word and His character. This wasn’t entirely new to me; it’s been my way of life since my daughter died. While it hasn’t been a perfect process, there’s been healing, deep and abundant healing. I’m stronger now so when those whispered lies return to tell me I’m not whole on my own, I simply tell the voice to shut up and then I go kiss my husband, who is my best friend.

No, my husband hasn’t saved me. But he has provided a safe place for me where healing still occurs, for me and for him. Oh, and the kids. But that’s a different story for another day.

russ-smile