There’s Beauty after the Pain



Crocuses are in full bloom in the state of AR and it is a beautiful sight. Although the temperature is still cool outside, it’s a great reminder that Spring is around the corner and the harsh days of winter will be behind us.
As I gazed at our crocuses with a heavy heart this week-end, I was reminded that there’s beauty following the pain of my husband’s job loss. I know there are better days ahead and that hope sustains me during our period of uncertainty.
I’ve also seen the beauty that follows the pain of stepfamily trials. As my youngest son turned ten years old this month, I was reminded of the challenges we faced with my stepson at this age. As he headed toward his adolescent years, my stepson became rebellious and aggressive toward me. I could do nothing right in his eyes and I was constantly criticized and berated.
My husband and I sought counseling with my stepson to determine the root of his anger but simply uncovered selfish and defiant behavior. He refused to acknowledge his part of the relationship and how he was contributing to the volatile situation. After two years of unresolved conflict, he looked for greener grass by moving to live with his mom in another state.
Unfortunately, his mom was diagnosed with colon cancer the year he moved there and she valiantly fought the disease a little more than a year before passing on. The loss contributed to my stepson’s anger but through counseling with hospice services after his mom’s death, he began to sort through some of his hurt and anger.
My stepson returned to live with us and complete his last three years of  high school. Our relationship was mended as he grew and matured, allowing me a place in his heart. He still struggles with loyalty feelings toward his mom that prevent him from completing embracing a relationship with me, but the rebellious, aggressive behavior is no longer part of our interaction.
It’s easy to focus on the struggles in the midst of a trial and think they will never end, but just as we see the beauty of the crocus after a long, hard winter, we will also see the beauty of refreshment after hardship.  

Are you experiencing stepfamily heartache? Will you look toward the beauty that will follow the pain?
                                                                                                Photo by Jaqui Brooks
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The Valley of the Unknown

My husband’s job ends next week. We moved to Conway, AR eleven years ago for my husband to assume the position of Director of Operations with a manufacturing company. His job has provided a comfortable living for us here as we’ve raised our children. But, unfortunately, the downfall of the housing industry has taken a huge toll on the company and Corporate has chosen to close its doors.

We are facing the valley of the unknown. It’s a scary place. We have complete faith he will land another job but that job hasn’t shown up yet. So, in the meantime, we wait.

The valley of the unknown appears more often than we like on this journey of life. It has reared its head in various ways on our stepparenting path. And each time, although it was difficult to deal with, we came out successfully on the other side.

Here a few of my thoughts on coping with the valley of the unknown:

Surrender to God’s plan. Give up control of the situation and ask for God’s guidance. Don’t try to find the answers alone. God is seeking a relationship with us and will guide our steps if we ask Him.

Unite with your spouse. Be on the same page with your spouse through the difficulty. Communicate frequently and brainstorm together for solutions. Lean on one another on the hard days and seek to find laughter through the trial.

Wait. Many times, God calls us to simply wait. I strongly dislike this one, but have endured it frequently. A beautiful illustration of how God works through the wait can be found here: Wait Poem, by Russell Kelfer. 

Take the next step. As you sense answers to your dilemma, take a step of faith. Start with small steps as you overcome your fear of a new direction. Continue to seek God’s plan and follow His lead.

Rejoice in new beginnings. Adopt an attitude of thankfulness as you move from the valley of the unknown to a heighth of unchartered territory. Embrace the change that accompanies a fresh start. Leave the past behind with any regrets of what could have been.

Press on. As Selah’s powerful song says, “In Jesus’ Name, we press on.” View Selah’s song.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Are you in a valley of the unknown? Do you have other suggestions to offer?

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God’s Timing is Different Than Ours

Let Go and Let God

Finding the Beauty of God’s Grace in Your Stepfamily

Nathan, 2010

“Mom, I’m sorry my friend was talking like that in front of you,” my nine year old son, Nathan, said as I put him to bed last night. He was referring to some crude language a neighbor was using while playing at our house. My son knew the comments were offensive to me.

I appreciated my son’s sweet attitude toward my feelings. I was reminded of the blessing of his sensitive spirit because I haven’t always experienced that with my other children. Nathan is the only child my husband and I have together, and I believe God gave me a caring, affectionate, I’m-gonna-take-care-of-my-momma boy to make up for some of the hurt and agony I’ve experienced with my stepchildren.

When I married my husband, my stepson was five. Because I had two girls, I didn’t know much about raising a son but I dreamed of cheering him on at ballgames, hearing about his first girlfriend, and enjoying big hugs snuggled on the couch. Unfortunately, most of those dreams have not come true.

My stepson’s mother was an active part of his life as a young boy and she didn’t like me being involved. My authority was undermined and my behavior was criticized. It seemd as if I was on trial constantly regarding what I said or how I disciplined my stepchildren. If I made a wrong move, my husband would hear about it.

I didn’t know how to stop feeling like I was competing with my stepson’s mother in every arena. When I attended ballgames, all I heard was, “Way to go son. Stike him out son. Hit it over the fence son.” My insecurity in my stepmother role kept me from actively participating at ballgames or school events when his mom was there.

The loyalty my stepson showed toward his mother was obvious. I was kept at arm’s length because it was too complicated to show love toward his stepmother.The risk of hurting his mom’s feelings was too great.

I learned to live with little expectation in my relationship with my stepson. It wasn’t the way I wanted it, but it became a survival technique for me. As he grew older, the relationship showed signs of developing, but when his mom died unexpectedly when he was 15 years old, the loyalty issues returned, preventing him from moving forward in a relationship with me.

God has seen every struggle with my stepson. He knows my heart and acknowledges my hurt from years’ past. When I was expecting our youngest child, I wanted another girl. I had been through so much pain with my stepson that I couldn’t imagine starting over with another boy.

But God knew what I needed. He has used our sweet son, Nathan, to heal my hurts and bandage my wounds. Through His grace, He gave me a gift I can’t replace. Nathan is affectionate and loving toward me every day. He is not a perfect child but he shows me unconditional love and emotional attachment like no other child. I can only explain it through God’s grace.

I would not appreciate Nathan’s unconditional love for me without the pain of the past. But with God’s redeeming love, I can enjoy a relationship with my son that I could only dream of before.

Have you seen evidences of God’s grace in your stepfamily?

Related posts:

Creating a Stable Stepfamily: Offer Love and Grace Freely

Healthy Stepparenting: Don’t Keep Score

When Our Stepchildren are Hurting: Offer Grace

Take Care of the Small Stuff Before It Gets Big

I went to the dentist yesterday to take care of a broken filling. While I was there, I learned that in addition to breaking out the filling, I also broke part of the tooth.

If I hadn’t taken the time to have it fixed, the tooth would have likely continued to crack, resulting in only one option: extracting the tooth. Instead I have a nice pretty crown, solidifying the cracked tooth underneath.

When our stepfamily relationships experience brokenness, we need to be intentional in finding solutions for the problems. If we choose to ignore the challenges or deny they exist, we create larger problems that result in more complex solutions.

A dear friend of mine took an active role in raising her stepdaughter for many years. She loved her stepdaughter and treated her as her own. But as the child reached adolescence, the young girl became involved in drugs and running with the wrong crowd.

Her father chose to ignore the situation, hoping it would remedy itself. Of course it didn’t, and the young teen-age girl dove deeper into trouble with each friend she made. As a stepparent, my friend couldn’t take action without the support of her husband. But the child’s father refused to get involved, allowing his daughter to start down a path toward self-destruction.

Unfortunately, at 20 years old, the young lady now lives on the street, continues to abuse drugs, and has an out of wedlock one-year-old daughter she is ill-equipped to raise. The challenge of getting help she will respond to in her present condition has become insurmountable. It’s too late for a clean fix to a simple problem.

As stepparents, we can’t always control the solutions to stepfamily problems. But we can take part in finding solutions to the challenges we are directly involved in. We can also offer input to our spouse and pray diligently for wise choices with our stepchildren. If we approach difficult issues with our stepchildren as they arise, we are more likely to find answers with long-term success.

What challenges are you facing in your stepfamily? Will you take time to confront the small issues as they develop to prevent larger issues on the horizon?

The Sting of Hurtful Words

My stepson compared me, in a negative sense, to his biological mom this week-end. His mom died over five years ago and the wounds are evident everyday. The words he spoke pierced my heart. I wish I could say it didn’t matter to me, but it did.

I have been an active mom in his life for almost 15 years and I would like to believe I have positively influenced him. But he made it clear to me that my opinion of the choice he was making didn’t matter because his “real mom” would have been fine with it and it was time I butted out.

Since my stepson turns 20 years old this summer, I recognize his disregard of my opinion. But I believe he is making a choice with negative long-term consequences and I couldn’t let it go without expressing my thoughts on the subject.

My stepmother mantra immediately came to mind, lower your expectations for now. In other words, get off your pity pot and let it go. If he chooses to ignore your advice, it is his loss. You cannot control his hurtful reaction but you can control yours.

The challenges of stepparenting seem to ease up at times, only to resurface at other times. It is not uncommon to take a step forward and two steps backward. It feels like my stepson and I took a step backward this week-end. But I’m thankful for the opportunity to start again, continually striving for a positive difference in my stepson’s life.

Have you experienced hurtful words lately? How do you cope with it?

Stepparenting Heartache: Part Three

Today I offer my last two considerations on how to cope with stepparenting heartache. You may find that some ideas are more adaptable for you than others, but it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with the heartache that can accompany stepparenting.

 

When my teen-age stepchildren lost their mother to cancer, it was heart-wrenching to watch the array of emotions they experienced. Outbursts of anger, impulsive decisions, and extended periods of withdrawal were a few of the many ways their feelings emerged. It was difficult to watch, knowing there was little we could do to help. I began to wonder if their pain would ever subside. But as time slowly crept by, with counseling and other support, they began to work through their feelings and accept the reality of her loss.

I began to see how time eased their pain. Without trying to rush the process of healing, it began to naturally occur as life marched on. The heartache they were experiencing became more manageable to live with as six months passed, then one year, and now five years. Understandably, they will always miss their mom and have moments of sadness, but the passage of time has eased the intensity of emotions that were evident in the beginning.

 

Another suggestions to consider when working through heartache is to seek out the God of Comfort. Meditate on and claim the promises of Scripture. Journal your thoughts, feelings, and prayers to help sort through complicated emotions. Draw from previous experience of when your faith sustained you, embracing the certainty it can happen again.

My faith has helped me through many difficult periods on my stepmother journey. I carry a small notebook of Scripture that is meaningful to me in my car. When I get discouraged or overwhelmed, I pull it out and focus on the power offered through God’s Word.

Heartache often occurs unexpectedly on the stepparenting path. It happens from rejection, loyalty conflict or harsh words from our stepchildren. It happens when our spouse doesn’t understand our feelings or expects more from our stepparenting role than we can offer. But we can make healthy choices to relieve heartache, knowing better days are ahead. By taking steps toward physical and spiritual health, we can speed recovery of our emotional difficulty.

Take care of your heartache today by taking care of yourself.