Change is Inevitable. Can We Learn to Trust God and Adapt?

One phone call. That’s all it took to change our stepfamily forever.

“I just got the news. She passed away earlier today,” my husband said. The finality of the words stung.  I thought about my teenage stepchildren facing life without their mom. Saddened, my heart ached.

I knew it would affect all of us. Like the ripples after tossing a stone into a lake, the effects would soon make their way into our home.

We had weathered some rocky storms as a stepfamily in the nine years my husband and I had been married. We were finally settling into a comfortable relationship, finding what worked for our family. I felt blessed for our newfound harmony.

Losing their mom left a cavernous hole in the hearts of my stepchildren. My relationship with them suffered as they dealt with their grief.

It’s easy for me to trust God when things are going well. Yet, when I face circumstances I don’t understand and that I cannot change, my faith tends to waver. You too? My husband and I had been praying for his ex-wife to be healed. That was not God’s plan.

Change is inevitable. Can we learn to trust God & adapt? by Gayla Grace

My mind was bombarded with questions that had no answers.

  • Would the children move across state lines and come live with us?
  • Could our home accommodate two more?
  • How would they cope as they struggled to accept their mom was gone?
  • What could we do to help with their troubled emotions?

The path before me was unchartered and unknown. I would have to trust God with what lay ahead.

Solutions were not easily or quickly found.

Tension mounted in our home.

Tempers occasionally flared.

We waded through months of confusion and anxiety.

At times, my husband and I did not see eye to eye.

Yet, when we let go and surrendered to God’s plan, peace engulfed us.

Soon after her mother’s death, my stepdaughter began college and didn’t relocate. My stepson lived with his stepdad and younger half-brother for a while longer before moving in with us. For healing to begin, we had to give up control and trust God with the outcome. Then and ONLY THEN did we begin to experience peace and begin to see positive changes.

It’s been more than ten years since my stepchildren lost their mom. Now, as young adults, both of them live out of state and are thriving. I’m thankful for healthy, loving relationships with them.

These days my own mother’s health is waning as she struggles with late-stage dementia. My stepchildren understand the sadness that accompanies the loss of a parent and offer compassion toward me.

I still struggle with God’s plan at times, particularly as I watch Mom suffer.

I want it to be my way, and I have a hard time letting go of control. But I know His ways are sovereign.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Trusting God’s plan is hard. Have you learned to trust His plan with your stepfamily? Will you share it with us? 

5 ways to promote harmony in stepfamily relationships by Gayla Grace

5 Ways to Promote Harmony in Stepfamily Relationships

5 ways to promote harmony in stepfamily relationships by Gayla GraceI didn’t walk to the altar with my first husband with intentions of divorce. Unfortunately, the demands and strain of his profession as a physician pushed him to unhealthy means to cope. Alcoholism reared its ugly head.  Near the end of our 11-year marriage, I began to attend Al-Anon, a support group for families of alcoholics.

I memorized the AA slogans and used them to help me face everyday challenges.

After I divorced, I realized that AA slogans didn’t have to be confined to problems in alcoholic relationships.

I recognized the value of them in other ways when I married into a stepfamily.

Here are 5 of my favorite AA slogans. Powerful sayings, they can help promote harmony in your stepfamily relationships.

1) Let go and let God

To most of us in stepfamilies, problems are part of life. My stepfamily is not exempt. I recognized  I could not fix the problems myself. Oh, I tried! I wasted precious time trying to control the situation or find a solution. Peace came when I let go and let God handle the situations. The key—when I LET GO. Answers to our challenges don’t always come quickly, but waiting on God’s solutions is always better than forcing mine to work.

2) Let it begin with me and Be part of the solution, not the problem

It’s easy to point out how everyone else is contributing to a problem. Instead, I need to step up and be the example for forgiveness, kindness, patience, and goodness toward our stepchildren. Our actions speak louder than our words.

It’s also our responsibility to work toward a solution, not become part of the problem. I’m the first to admit I sometimes talk about a problem instead of look for an answer. We become what we focus on. Will you choose to focus on the problem or a solution?

3) How important is it?

Too often, we make things bigger than they really are. I clearly remember a conflict ten years ago that I created. I insisted that all our children attend my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My stepdaughter, who had a strained relationship with me at the time, was living with her mom and didn’t want to go. I was angry when my husband didn’t force her to be there. I made a big deal out of it, creating further conflict with my husband.

Fast forward ten years to my parent’s 60th-anniversary celebration. My stepdaughter and I had mended our ways and she wanted to participate in the celebration! I’ve finally learned that many of the battles we choose to fight will resolve themselves over time.

4) One day at a time

Building trust takes time, change takes time, healing old wounds takes time; there are no immediate ready-made solutions. This day is all I have to work with, and it is all I need. If I am tempted to worry about tomorrow’s concerns, I will gently bring my mind back to today.” (Courage to Change: One Day at a Time in Al-Anon)

Living one day at a time allows us to focus on the problems at hand, let go of the problems of yesterday and trust God with the problems of tomorrow. We can’t change the past OR the future. We can only make a change in today.

5) Keep an open mind

Stepfamily relationships evolve over time.  Sometimes they get worse before they get better. If the solution you are trying doesn’t work, keep an open mind. Remain flexible. Try to embrace the change with an eye toward long-term success in your relationships, not ready-made answers. Be open to their thoughts and ideas of your spouse. Try to stay united with your spouse.

Other slogans of AA that can be applied to the stepfamily journey include: Easy does it, first things first, just for today, keep it simple, listen and learn, live and let live, and think. 

If you’re interested in learning more about their slogans, go here.   Al-Anon resources (for families of alcoholics) are helpful also.

I love AA slogans and can find ways to apply them every day.

How will you use an AA slogan to create stronger relationships in your stepfamily or have you applied one already? Will you share it with us?

I have a printable to share with you. Click here to download and print Steps for Dealing with Difficult Situations.

 

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

The Price of Forgiveness

Gayla Grace on the price of forgiveness

After my first marriage ended, I held onto unforgiveness. I had been mistreated and I justified my actions from a wounded soul. I didn’t want to consider how my unforgiveness contributed to my lack of peace and affected my daily walk with others and with the Lord.

Communication with my ex-husband was strained. Co-parenting seemed impossible. One day I realized how I contributed to the difficulty with my unforgiveness.

Wounded from hurtful words from our stepchild or misunderstood by our spouse, we hang onto unforgiveness, hindering our relationships. We feel justified because we’ve been wronged. As a result, tension in our home co-exists with every interaction.

The price of unforgiveness is a burden of resentment, a poison of bitterness, and strained relationships. The price of forgiveness is love, freedom, and peace.

Why do we choose poison over freedom?

Because when we’ve been wronged, forgiveness is hard. It doesn’t happen naturally. We have to seek the Lord’s help and make an intentional choice to go against our human nature and forgive.

Christ paid a huge price so we could experience forgiveness. His death on the cross is a powerful reminder of the sacrifice He offered us. But even Christ struggled with doing what the Father asked of him. Matthew 26:39 says, “He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Some days we’d rather say, “Not your will but mine.” My will includes justifying my hurt and wallowing in my wound. My will seeks to take care of myself instead of considering others’ needs. Unfortunately, my will also leads to a life of heartache and disappointment.

Our pastor’s words recently spoke to my heart, “Unforgiveness is demanding that other people be perfect, and that’s a standard You can’t meet!” If I fail to forgive my stepson for an imperfect action, I’m expecting he’ll never have to forgive me for a wrong. I make imperfect choices every day. Why, then, do I hold onto unforgiveness?

Forgiveness provides the key to unlock the tension in stepfamily relationships. We’re called to forgive, even when it’s not our fault.

It’s not easy, but

.

Have you held onto unforgiveness or experienced the peace that comes from forgiving? Let’s talk in the comments.

Gayla Grace on praying for your stepfamily

Resolutions for Your Stepfamily: The Power of Prayer

 Gayla Grace on the importance of praying for your family

I was in a neighborhood prayer group for almost seven years before moving to Louisiana. We met weekly (at 6:00 am!)  to pray for the needs of each family represented. I joined the group when my husband and I were fighting a custody battle. It was a very difficult time—my stepson had lost his mom to cancer and his stepfather applied for custody. These ladies became my support group.  I cried when I left them, sensing I could never replace their friendships. It seemed only natural to start a new prayer group after we moved.

Year after year of praying diligently for my stepfamily has resulted in some amazing healing. My stepson has changed from an angry adolescent who wanted to isolate himself from our family to a maturing young adult who loves and cares for each family member.

This year my birthday card from my stepson had this personal inscription: ““Happy birthday. Happy to call you a part of my life and supportive figure, with all your wisdom. I love you and thank you for everything you do. May your day be blessed.”  (As the kids get older, I am getting smarter! *wink*)

 I don’t write this to brag about my relationship with my stepson. I write to encourage you and give you hope. Strained stepparenting relationships are not unique. You should know you are not alone. I’ve been there. I’ve had many days that I wanted to quit my job as stepmother! But as my stepchildren reach their adult years, they show me their appreciation more and more.
I am convinced that the hours I’ve spent praying for my stepfamily and our relationships have made a difference. Our family was broken when my husband and I married 21 years ago. Only God could have put the pieces back together.
I believe we need to spend more time talking to God about our children than talking to our children about God. I firmly believe we should talk to our children about God, but we can’t underestimate the power of praying for our children and stepchildren.

 Prayer is a powerful discipline that we often neglect.

I love Stormie Omartian’s words in The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children,

I have found that only God can give you the wisdom you need. And He will give it to you when you ask for it. But prayer is not telling God what to do. Prayer is partnering with God to see that His will is done.

Prayer changes relationships.

 What resolutions are you making for the New Year? I hope you’ll include prayer. 

If you are on Twitter, connect with me @GaylaGrace. I’d be happy to pray with you about your stepfamily needs.

Here’s a picture of our kids from my daughter’s wedding this September. I’m thankful to see our kids lock arms with big smiles. (My stepson is on the far left).
wedding-5kids-1

The Benefits of Conflict in Your Stepfamily

I recently returned from a week long vacation with my extended family to the mountains. It was a wonderful time of relaxing and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation surrounding us.

Beauty of God's creation

But it wasn’t a conflict-free, trouble-free vacation. They never are, are they?

As I reflected on our trip after I returned, I couldn’t help but parallel the conflict that happened in my biological family-of-origin to that of what happens in stepfamilies. I was raised in a very stable, traditional home with three sisters and two parents who did a wonderful job (not perfect) rearing their four daughters and equipping us for life.

However, we are still four imperfect 50+-year-old women who sometimes have conflict amongst ourselves.

Does that mean our family is dysfunctional? No.

Does that mean we don’t love each other? No.

Does that indicate we need to quit going on vacation together? No.

Could it be we are simply an imperfect family seeking to do life together amidst stress, difficult circumstances, and changing dynamics? Yes!

And when those variables come into play, it’s not unusual that conflict follows. You see,  our family is facing the undeniable reality that my mom’s dementia is progressing much quicker than any of us want to admit. And it’s having far-reaching effects with all of us.

Stress, difficult circumstances, changing dynamics, … and as a result, conflict.

I would venture to guess it’s no different than what’s happening in your stepfamily.  What difficult circumstance are you facing? How is change affecting your family? What is the biggest stressor you’re dealing with right now? Is it creating conflict?

The good news is: conflict isn’t all bad. Conflict is an indicator that something needs to change. And it’s usually a direct result of someone speaking up in regards to something they’re unhappy about.

So, conflict in your stepfamily uncovers someone’s need to address an issue that might need to change for the benefit of the family.

Without conflict, we ignore or internalize what we’re unhappy about and it never changes. And when we internalize our issues instead of addressing them, we create other problems for ourselves that will  show up later such as a volcano of anger that spews, underlying frustration with your family, an ulcer, high blood pressure, and a host of other physical issues.

What’s important with conflict is how we handle it. I’ve addressed this issue before at Tips to Help if You’re Experiencing Conflict in Your Family and Resolve Conflict as it Occurs and several other blog posts. If you struggle with resolving conflict properly, I hope you’ll take time to educate yourself on this very important topic. I wrote a complete article on it, “Fighting Fair: 12 Tips to Help You Manage Conflict and Strengthen Your Stepfamily,” for Stepmom Magazine that can be found here. 

Use conflict in a healthy manner to solve problematic issues in your stepfamily. Don’t skirt around it or ignore it. Address it! (Properly please). And then bask in the beauty of resolve.

Can you share the benefits of conflict resolution you’ve experienced in your stepfamily? Id love to hear about it.