When God Interrupts ...

I just got into the office after morning Bible study at church. Acts 9-12 struck me with a couple of profound truths.

No matter where we have been or what we have done, God has a plan for us. He wants to redeem us, call us and use us for His Kingdom purpose. Read Acts 9:1-31.

Don't be surprised when God interrupts your journey. While we are walking along our own path, He shines a light from heaven, speaks to us in an unmistakable voice and calls us to be different. 

God will go to any length to get us off the wrong path and onto the right one. He struck Paul blind. He had to be led around by others. He also couldn't see the future to know that his sight would be restored in three days. Sometimes God uses a major event to stop us in our tracks. 

God is always at work in more than one place. In Acts 10:1-48, and Acts 9:8-19, we see God at work in multiple locations. While Paul was sitting in Damascus, blinded, God was talking to Ananias about healing a blind man that would come to him. While Peter ponders his vision of the sheet of unclean animals he is to kill and eat, Cornelius, a Gentile, has a vision about Peter coming to his house to share the truth of Jesus. Sometimes when we don't understand what God is doing or allowing, He is at work elsewhere preparing other puzzle pieces. Just like Ananias and Paul, and Cornelius and Peter, once the pieces are all assembled, we can stand in awe of God's masterpiece. 

Many times, God asks us to do something we think is impossible. Imagine Ananias' fear when God told him to heal the church-hating, Christian-persecuting Paul. Ananias knew that Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest and imprison the Christians. Imagine Peter's trepidation when God asked him to go into a home he had been taught all his life to avoid just to share Christ. God often asks us to do things outside of our comfort zone. 

As you journey through this day, don't be surprised if God interrupts. Don't be surprised if He decides to turn your worst day into your best day. Don't be surprised when He uses the darkest days of your life to shine the brightest light into the lives of others.

Hope you enjoy this song by Babbie Mason. 

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

20 Years

20 years. The time it takes a baby to become an adult. The time its been since the Dallas Cowboys won a Super Bowl. The time required for a White Oak Tree to reach maturity.

20 years. Seems an eternity when we’re kids, but flies like crazy when we're adults.

20 years ago today, my life changed forever. I buried my husband.

So many memories ... the brisk outside air; the faces of hundreds of people who came to pay their final respects; the anguish in my children’s eyes; the finality when the casket was closed for the last time. Placing his wedding ring on the ring finger of my right hand.

While so many things about that day seem to have frozen in time, many other things have changed so much. Kids have grown up. I’ve grown older. Life has moved on.  

Today is a strange day for me. An odd mix of memories. While I buried him 20 years ago, I married him 35 years ago. Today.

I also remember a family who came into the Kingdom the day I buried my husband. They were re-born that day. I feel amazingly connected to that family because I was reminded of the circle of eternal life. As Kris was experiencing the actual presence of God that day, they were sealed with the promise of their Kingdom-entrance some day.

I listened to a sermon this afternoon on my way home from work. One of my favorite radio pastors reminded me that God is Sovereign. That means He is bigger than anything I face. 20 years ago. Or right now.

Here’s a quote: “Remember that nothing comes into your life that isn’t either allowed by God or decreed by God.” Chip Ingram

I don’t know what you’re walking through today. But be encouraged. Your journey is in the Hands of a loving, gracious, Almighty God Who desires to do a work in you and through you.

20 years. For me? I’ve learned that these light and momentary struggles are only perfecting the faith that Jesus authored in me. He is transforming my mourning to dancing. He is exchanging beauty for ashes. He is allowing me to experience God's blessed hope in the midst of despair.

“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.

Read it slowly. Meditate on its truth. Bask in its promise.

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

A Winter Marriage

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I'm wondering what it would be like to be one of those families in the northeast. I've watched the news reports showing the snow piled up over the doors and windows of homes. I've heard the reports that even though people and snow plows are trying to clear the snow away, there is so much snow, they don't know where to put it. Here in the south, we've had a few snows in the past, and although getting out on the roads is not something I choose to do, I can at least look out my windows and step outside my back door for some fresh air. I can't imagine being trapped in a tomb of snow.

I wonder how many people feel as though they are trapped in a winter marriage? Has the pain and anger begun to cover the windows? Have negative communication patterns trapped couples inside with no chance of opening the door and letting in some fresh air? Do they long for spring to come bringing renewal and refreshing from the cold, dreary winter?

You don't have to be in a blending family to experience a winter marriage. But, blending families provide so many more opportunities. There are stepchildren and ex-spouses. There may be pain and unforgiveness from a previous marriage that is setting the tone in the new family. Negative communication patterns may be imported from a previous relationship.

The problem with the snow in the northeast right now is that the temperature isn't rising enough to melt the snow. And a continual line of storms continue to drop more snow. The future looks bleak. There is little hope for change in the immediate future.

So what about your winter marriage? Is it so cold that the chances of melting the snow is next to impossible? Has the snow continued to fall, building a frozen fortress around your house that prevents anyone from getting out in the fresh air?

While the northeast is at the mercy of the weather patterns, your marriage isn't. You are the one who holds the forecast for your marriage. What can you do to hasten the arrival of a springtime marriage? Here are four suggestions.

1. Let your frigid tone with your spouse begin to melt. Warm up your words and let the cold bite of your speech thaw. Listen to how you speak to your spouse. Do your words affirm and warm their heart or are your words frozen icicles bringing a chill? Are your words gentle and tender, or harsh and angry? Listen to how you sound.

2. Take a moment to warm them with a hug. Stop where you are and put your arms around your mate bringing warmth to them. It is amazing how quickly touch can begin to thaw even the coldest of days.

3. Take the chill out of the air of your marriage by doing something today to serve your mate. "Steal" your husband's car while he's at work and surprise him with a clean car after work. Clear the dishes for your wife. Bring a hot cup of coffee to your mate first thing in the morning.

4. Create a burst of heat by surprising your mate with something they love. Cook your husbands favorite dinner. Stop off on the way home from work and pick up flowers for your wife, "just because." Send a text just to let your spouse know you are thinking about them during your busy day.

Every marriage needs a boost every now and then. The longer you let the snow pile up, the harder it is to clear away and melt. When you notice the accumulation beginning, take the time to sweep it away. Don't let the low temperatures and continual snowfall from the relentless storms block you in. Let the sunshine bring warmth as you clear away the snow.

"However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."   Ephesians 5:33

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

Are you a Prisoner of your Past?

Everyone has a past. In fact, some of us have more of a past than others. Some of our past was just given to us. We had absolutely no control over the who, where, and what of some of our past. You didn't choose your family of origin. You didn't choose where you grew up. You didn't choose the things that happened to you.

And then there are those pieces of our past that we did choose. Some were good choices, some still bring a sting of regret. And the truth of the past is that once it is written, it can never be erased. There is no delete or backspace key that allows us to go back and change anything.

Probably one of the most difficult things about our past is that who we are today is a result of our past. We have established patterns, habits, responses, expectations based on what we have come to understand as truth through our past experiences. Some of those experiences helped build strong character that empowers us. Other experiences lurk in the dark corners of our minds where we've tried to bury them. At times, these memories suddenly jump into our consciousness, our actions and our patterns of reaction.

Although none of us choose some of the things in our past, and many more of us have deep regret for the things we did choose, there comes a point where being the victim is crippling our present. I can't go back and change anything in the past. However, I can choose for today how I'm going to respond. Will I allow those past experiences to be stumbling blocks to my present, or will I choose to use those past experiences as stepping stones toward growth?

How do you prevent your past from imprisoning you in the present?

The only answer I have for how to actually live this out is found in God's Word. I believe that the truths of the Bible can be summed up in one word ... redemption. Not only is God's Word a narrative that points both forward and backward to the eternal redemption through the cross of Christ, but I believe it also speaks to the ongoing redemption of man. God doesn't leave those who choose Him to remain as they are. He takes the sum total of their life, where they are when they encounter Him, and begins to do a great work of redemption. Some of the most difficult experiences of life, become the greatest opportunities for growth and a deeper relationship with Christ. And the beauty of the story is, that God didn't just do that for folks who lived in Bible times. He has done His redemptive work throughout ALL time, including today. In your life. He has the power to redeem your past mistakes. He has the desire to redeem your painful circumstances. He has the love to redeem you.

So what will you do with your past? Allow it to cripple your present and dim your future? Or will you allow God to use it to grow you and encourage you and make you into a stronger person?

You are where you are. And God has a plan for where you are. Today. Not yesterday, but today. So what does God want for you in your new marriage and family? His plan is redemption. He wants to take what was broken, whether through death or divorce and redeem it. He wants to help you build a new family. Give Him a chance. Give Him your family. Give Him your marriage. Allow Him to redeem your past and give you a fresh new future.

I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."  Psalm 40:1-3

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

Looking Back

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Sometimes, when I think of our family, I have a hard time remembering some things. There are sort of blank spots in my memory. However, other moments are forever etched in my mind. Running to the emergency room during Sunday morning worship rehearsal to get stitches for our two-year-old (he decided the church aisle was a running track, only he wasn't wearing running shoes, hence the stitches) to return just in time to sit down at the piano and resume the worship service. With a child in my arms. I must admit to playing piano in worship more than once wearing a child like an apron. Anyway, memories. A fight between our two middle children shortly after we became a family, resulting in a walk through the neighborhood with dad, that actually ended in a run from the snake that crossed their path. I love it when God sends something so unexpected to turn our anger into laughter. I remember summer days in the pool, washing an endless pile of beach towels, and mopping up wet footprints daily. I never thought those would be fond memories, but they sure are now. I remember night after night, processing from room to room, each child tucked safely in their bed, and praying with them, kissing them and turning out the light. I remember assigning a laundry day for each child. This became a necessity after trying to sort the socks from four kids within a ten-year-age-span. I learned quickly that separating laundry by child instead of by color was the easiest way to go.

I remember soccer games, t-ball games, dance recitals, football games, band concerts, church programs, school programs, visits to the principal's office. I remember broken hearts and bad grades. I remember graduations and homecomings and proms. I remember college orientations. Lots of them. I remember first days of school, and last first days of elementary. I vividly remember the first days of senior year. I cried buckets every time. Honestly, it was worse than the first day of kindergarten. But I didn't know any better, so I cried bucketfuls then, too.

I remember Mother's Days with more cards and gifts crafted by precious little hands than I can count.

I remember children who came to know Jesus as their Savior. On the pew at church. In the car at a gas station. In bed after saying prayers. Sitting on the living room sofa. Outside, laying in the hammock. All Holy Ground to this mom.

I guess I'm a little nostalgic lately because I've been going through old photographs. You see, the one that took us to the ball games and band concerts and church programs and graduation and orientation and prom and homecoming, and yes, the principal's office ... the one whose Holy Ground is the car at the gas station, is getting married in two weeks. The kids wanted a few photographs of their growing up and families to display at the reception. I must admit to shedding more than a few tears as I've wandered down the lane of memories. I remember vividly when some of the photos were taken. There is one of my boys with their cousins playing together at the church. They are wearing suits and Sunday dresses. It was the lunch provided after their dad's funeral. There is a photo of the boys eating snow cones at the zoo. Our new family was a month old and it was the first time that just my boys and I had an outing together. Then there is the picture of the kids at the top of reunion tower. It was Christmas Eve (our first one together) and we had to postpone a ski trip because of the chicken pox. Our daughter brought them home from school the week before Christmas break, so our youngest was a textbook case and broke out exactly 14 days later. We found her first "pox" on Christmas Eve, at Reunion Tower.

While there is such a mixture of sweet memories and bittersweet memories, one thing is certain. God's love has bound us together. And the past is there as a reminder that God is always at work, always doing His work in our lives. While some of the past is painful and filled with regret, most of the photos remind me of the joy and laughter we shared. I'm reminded of fusses that ended in hugs and forgiveness. I'm reminded of how the people I've shared the past with have loved and shown compassion and care for others.

One of my favorite envelope of photographs had nothing to do with the event or even the skill of the photographer. They were simply pictures we took one Easter. No one was happy about having to dress up in "Easter clothes." That I remember. And the photo was taken at a time when our blending family was not easy. But what I saw in those pictures, the posed and the candid, were kids who had walked through deep pain and loss. But I saw kids who were resilient. They were thriving and growing and experiencing life in its fullness. The joy and difficulty. But mostly, I could see how they cared for each other. Even when they didn't like each other. They had learned to love each other.

In those photos, I saw a family. Not a broken family. Not a blending family. Not a step-family. I just saw a family. People who shared the good, bad, and ugly of life, together.

I am really bad about focusing on the "what we did wrongs" of our blending family. My selective memory tends to leave me filled with hallow regrets. But, my journey through the photos helped me remember the good things. The moments of fun and laughter we shared as a family. Vacations and events. Times spent together around the holiday table. Afternoon carpool and getting kids to and from activities. "Wearing" our new baby in the Snugli to two football games every week. Dinners at the table and dinners in the car. Swimming and playing and New Year's Eve events with our own little "youth group." The times we actually did things right.

I know it's easy to get discouraged looking back. The "what if's" and "if only's" can paralyze our today. But let God sift your memories. Remember the hard times only as a way to ponder what you've learned. Remember the hard times so you can be ever so grateful for the good times. And remember the good times. They are a blessing from the Lord. So is your family.

So, wherever you are today in the midst of your blending family, stop and express gratitude for the people who are sharing your life. Thank God that He has put you together as a family. And let today be a day of rejoicing WITH your family. I know its not perfect. It will likely never be perfect. But rejoice in it anyway. I have a picture by my back door. It says, "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass ... it's about learning to dance in the rain." Maybe today you need to pretend to be Gene Kelly and just do a little dancing and singing in the rain.

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

3 Clues for Positive Communication

The discussion has begun and already you feel your pulse increasing and the red glow coming into your face. Why do the discussions always turn into a knock-down, drag-out fight? Discussing difficult topics always seems to bring high emotion. But often, with high emotion comes a flood of irrational thinking and uncontrolled words. Here are three clues to developing positive communication.

1. Use "I" statements. Stop before you speak and realize that the goal of the discussion is not to win. This is not a competition, it is a conversation. The goal of the conversation is to reach a positive outcome for everyone involved. When you begin to use "you" statements, you are firing arrows at your mate. Your words become accusations and your mate feels the need to defend against the WMD's. (weapons of mass destruction).  When you use "I" statements, you take the first step in diffusing the battle. Here's how it works. Say, "When you (attach a specific action), I feel (attach a specific feeling)." You are helping your spouse understand how their actions impact your feelings.

2. See your mate through the lens of their life's experiences. Face it. We are all a product of our past experiences. From family of origin to previous relationships, we tend to view the world as we've learned to view it and we respond to the world in the patterns established through our experiences ... some good, some not so good. However, if you can stop and look at your mate as a person, seeing them as a result of their own experiences, you begin to see them not as your opponent in battle but as the partner you have chosen because you love them. The word is empathy. You begin to feel what they feel.

3. Listen more than you talk. You know in your head that communication is a two-way conversation. But maybe calling it a four-way conversation would be more appropriate. There are two people talking, and the same two people are also listening. When you are having a discussion with your mate, are you really listening to them, or are you just being silent, letting them talk while you are distracted by forming your own thoughts for what you will say next?

As a child, I remember watching Charlie Brown specials for every holiday. You remember ... Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin ... a Charlie Brown Christmas. But one thing I remember vividly, was Charlie Brown's teacher. I don't think we ever actually saw her. But we knew she was there, and we heard her. Only we really didn't hear her. We just heard "wah-wah-wah-wah-wah." What that communicated was that she was speaking but no body really cared enough about what she was saying to even put it into understandable language. We knew there was some noise from someone's voice, but it was unintelligible because we didn't really value what was being said.

Is that how you listen when you and your mate are in a debate? Are you so focused on your own "side" and forming your responses in order to win the debate, that you stop really listening?

Let me to encourage you to listen on three different levels, the next time the two of you are having a discussion.

Listen to what they are saying. Literally. Listen to the words they are speaking. Don't analyze, just hear the words.

Listen to what they are not saying. Watch the non-verbals of your mate while you listen. Watch their face and hands. Read what they are saying, without saying it.

Listen to what they mean. This is where you can read between the lines. What are they saying about how they feel? What are they communicating about something that is troubling to them? Try to step back and be as objective as you possibly can.

I remember very early in our marriage, I had to learn that my husband did not fully trust me. This was a completely foreign concept to me, because I had never dealt with infidelity. I had never lost trust in someone who had committed to remain faithful. However, my husband had experienced the infidelity of a mate. He had not yet known me long enough to trust me fully. He didn't trust anyone fully. I had to listen to some of our early disagreements, knowing that he was having to grow into his trust for me. Once I realized that, I could listen to him differently. I was better able to listen empathetically and try to understand that he was speaking out of past experience. It wasn't so much about not trusting me as it was about not trusting, period. I had to learn to "listen between the lines" and hear the heart of my mate.

The goal of communication is not to win. It is to draw closer to each other. God can take even your disagreements and struggles as you try to communicate to build you up and strengthen your marriage.

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

The Marriage ... Week Two

Everyone loves a good wedding. In fact, at our house, we are getting ready for one. The first of our five children is preparing to tie the knot in just a few weeks. The "wedding" feelings are beginning. Even for the mother of the groom. You know. The excitement ... the butterflies ... the anxious thoughts. How much weight can I lose before then? And as one who has experienced two weddings personally, my mind can't help but go to week two of the marriage. Everyone is excited about the wedding no doubt. Lots of preparation goes into that weekend and day. And even the following week usually entails a good bit of planning. I know our kids had to update their passport as a part of the plans. There are usually plane reservations to make and hotel arrangements. Excursions to plan. Wardrobes to purchase for the trip.

But then, there is Week Two.

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That time when, literally, the honeymoon is over and life as a married couple begins. Week two of my first marriage was spent setting up the household, along with a good bit of crying. The excitement was over, the honeymoon just a memory awaiting the development of the photos (remember those days? When we had to actually wait a week to see the pictures we had taken?), and the realization that normal life was setting in. There were jobs to go to, budgets to keep, clothes to wash and bathrooms to clean. No more eating out, and having fun, fun, fun. Just lots of grocery shopping and cooking.

Week two of my second marriage was spent surrounded by four young children desperately trying to figure out this new arrangement in which they found themselves. And the two parents were wondering just exactly what we had signed on for. While love is a many splendored thing, for the moment, it felt like just enough rope to hang ourselves with. Everything felt bigger and harder to manage than we had imagined in our pre-marital state of euphoria. Now, the honeymoon was definitely over and we were managing a blending household, four kids who were still trying to figure it all out, and new relationships all the way around. And that was before the "ex-relationship" kicked into hyper-drive.

So, can we dissect week two and take it one issue at a time? Let's start at the beginning. Yes, the kids are there, and maybe hurting and confused and trying to figure out new relationships that they may or may not be old enough to understand. However, the center of the family unit is undeniably the parents. So how do you remain a team when there is so much pulling at you?

Since conflict is inevitable, the time is now to begin to develop some positive communication skills. Believe it or not, the habits you begin to develop now, will be with you for a long time. Start now. Be proactive in building positive communication patterns.

Here are three suggestions for developing those positive patterns in the midst of a newly blending family.

1. Open, honest dialogue.  Here's an idea. Sit in chairs facing each other knees-to-knees. Hold hands. Maintain eye contact. Now ... talk. When you are facing each other, touching each other and looking at each other, its harder to use angry, accusatory words. I know it sounds like silly psycho-babble, but it really does work. What could be destructive now has a chance to be rational, helpful and encouraging.

Its also a good idea to set a time for the discussion. And by that, I mean two things. In the early days, it may be a good idea to "schedule" a regular time to touch base. Don't wait until things are so out of control that you just want to scream and throw things at each other (including angry words that you will someday regret). Choose a time when both of you are semi-rested and able to have a rational, uninterrupted conversation and both are able to stay awake. Secondly, set an ending time. Don't let the discussion go on for hours. And why not pre-plan something fun to do together after your discussion? This will give you something to look forward to, and will end a potentially difficult dialogue on a positive note.

I know you think this all sounds ridiculous and impossible. But trust me. If you can bite the bullet and just try it, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

2. Date weekly. I know what you're thinking. That is impossible. After all, there are babysitters and reservations and time away. But if you make it a priority, your marriage will be so much better for it. Ideally, newlyweds have months or years to just focus on each other before the introduction of children. However the two of you have an instant family and must figure out how to build intimacy in front of an audience. You will have to be creative. Remember that dates don't always have to cost money. One of our favorite spots was a local park with acres and acres of picnic spots. We could find solitude and fun all for free. A fast-food picnic, a football and a blanket was great when going to a nice restaurant just wasn't in the budget. And if your kids have visitation with an ex, take advantage of that time to spend together doing something fun instead of catching up on work at the office.

3. Pray together daily. I've never understood why it is so difficult to pray with the person who you have chosen to share your life with. I have talked to so many couples who say that praying together is just too hard. And actually I do understand. The power and encouragement we need in order to have a healthy marriage is found in prayer ... especially praying together. The enemy knows that. I think he comes up with great schemes to keep us from the power released when praying together. But just do it. It doesn't have to be long and flowery. Just talk to God together. I promise. This one thing will transform your marriage.

"They all met together and were constantly united in prayer ..." Acts 1:14

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

New Math

Blending a family is like trying to learn the "new math." I remember when my kids first came home with math homework that I couldn't help them with because, "Mom, we do it different than in the olden days." What looked like the same old long division I learned back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, turned out to be some new, complex, uber-modern, new-way to figure out what 394 divided by 5 actually is. While my old-timey method brought the right answer, I learned that, in addition to a "new way" to get the answer, the answer no longer counted. What mattered most was the process.

I always thought of math as one of those absolutes. You know, black & white. It's either right or wrong. But I soon learned that, like many other things in our society, mathematics was becoming subjective. What mattered most was that you followed the process, and if you didn't come up with the exact right answer, that was okay, because you used the method you were taught, and came up with something close. I never knew that close worked in math. Certainly a new way of thinking for me. Incidentally, I've tried using the "new math" concept at the bank a few times, and obviously they are old too, because they still go by the old-timey rules where the answer matters most. Go figure.

When I became a part of a blending family, I sort of felt the same way. New math. A different process. The "right answer" seemed elusive. In a matter of a few short years, my family equation looked liked this:

4 - 1  + (4 - 1 ) = 6

Then a few years later it became:

4 - 1  + (4 - 1)  + 1 = 7

I have to admit, in the early days, I sometimes had to stop and actually think when getting plates out of the cabinet. Now, how many places do I set?

Which brings me to the dinner table. I don't know how it happens, but it seems in normal families (see earlier blog), people just sort of migrate to "their spot" at the table. I don't ever remember having to assign anything. Everyone just found a place and all was good. And that was their place. Of course, with just the four of us that was easy, because every parent was next to a child and every child was next to a parent, and mom and dad could even sit next to each other and not upset the geometric balance. 

When my husband died, there was a time when the boys and I STOPPED eating at the table. I call it the Empty Chair Syndrome. I'm sure it must be diagnosable, and included in the most recent edition of the DSM. For some reason, we could not bring ourselves to sit down to eat and face that awful empty chair. So, we started eating out. Or sitting on the sofa and using TV trays. Or making a pallet on the floor in the living room and having a picnic. Even eating in the minivan (yep, I was one of those moms) was preferable to eating with the empty chair.

But, I digress. Just about the time we were getting used to being the three musketeers, things changed. And its not like there was an accident or something. We chose the change. Rather I chose the change. I said yes to another family of four, minus one equals three. 

So, on day nine of my marriage, there were three new people who had moved into our home, and two of them were in sleeping bags on the floor next to my bed plus the other two who already lived in the house, who wanted to sleep there as well. As I lay in the darkness, pondering what, exactly, I had done, a wave of panic swept over me. These people are not leaving. 

And the crisis at the dinner table only intensified. No one wanted to fill the empty chair. Everyone wanted to sit by a parent. The problem? The parents were out-numbered. No matter what kind of "new math" geometric principles we applied, there were just not enough sides to the parents to go around. The delicate balance that I had so taken for granted those years ago, became impossible. There were arguments and tears. There were angry words of hurt. There was a feeling of despair.  No matter how hard I tried, this was one math problem I could not master.

I know you'd love to have answer for this. And I'd love to give you one. But honestly, I don't know what it is. While time certainly helped, there were still times when the dinner table became a battleground and tears were the order of the day. You and your spouse are only two ... or one, depending on your theology.

But here's my nickel's worth of advice ... and you may even want some change back. The advice? Just Talk. Talk to each other and talk to the kids. Be honest and allow open conversation. Model what it means to share your feelings honestly yet gently, with grace. Pray together. Pray around the table and do more than thank God for the food. Ask Him, in front of the kids, to help your family learn how to live together and work together as a team. Pray for the relationships that struggle. Go ahead and just pray it out loud. Everyone already knows who-rubs-who the wrong way. Saying the words doesn't do anything but relieve everyone from having to pretend that conflict doesn't exist. Open, honest dialogue may just be one part of the equation of this "new math" problem.

Your new family is developing patterns. Just like your former family developed patterns. What kind of patterns of communication are you developing? But, that's a topic for a later entry. 

Finally, the best advice I can think of right now? Laugh together. Not at each other, but with each other. Give everyone the freedom and the opportunity to release the frustration they have through laughter. And Mom and Dad ... you set the tone. Choose to laugh together even when you would much rather cry.

A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.     Proverbs 17:22 (The Message).

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

Finding Normal

I used to be normal. I didn't have to introduce my husband with a number. I didn't have to answer inquisitive stares from people I hadn't seen in a while, wondering who these new "family" people were. I used to send Christmas cards every single year, but haven't sent any in over 20 years because I could never figure out how to put what was happening, what had happened and the changes in my life into one of those cheerful, normal-perfect-family Christmas letters. I didn't have to think about how to sign birthday cards to the kids in my own house.  I never had to count the number of family photos I hung on the walls based on the children in the photo. I had never before had to filter the reports of the kids' daily activities for fear of hurting the "other parents'" feelings.

broken-family.jpg

I had grown up in a nuclear family, although I never really knew that's what we were called. However, when I was growing up, divorce was rare, and we called nuclear families, normal. All my life, my family had been normal. So imagine my horror when my own family became not-normal. I had joined the ranks of single parents. I felt like there was something wrong with me ... like I had failed. Although I was left as a single parent by the death of my spouse, I still didn't fit in anywhere. 

I no longer "fit" with my couple friends. They were great supporters at first, but as time moved on, so did those friendships. And as a mid-30-year-old-widow, I had a tough time considering myself "single" even though that is exactly what I was. Single. Again. 

My two sons were early elementary school at the time their dad died, and I have a very vivid memory of an "episode" involving a magnifying glass and grass fire in an easement not far from our house. My son and two other boys were "looking at ants" and somehow started the grass on fire. I remember standing at the curb with the two other dads. I felt completely out of place. I got angry. Where was MY boys' dad? Why had he left me here to deal with all this "dad" stuff? I could almost hear the crowd whispering ... "Oh, yes. That's the SINGLE mom. No wonder ..."

I wondered then how I would ever be able to make it. I heard a comment from a dad at the baseball field one evening saying my son "threw like a girl." Well, of course he did, because the person who taught him to throw was, in fact, A GIRL ... ME! I hated "Dad's 'n Donuts" at school because it was just another reminder that there was something wrong with my family. While I could go and eat donuts with the best of them, I felt like the girl in a boy's locker room. I was completely out of place. And while my boys always seemed to appreciate my efforts, it just wasn't the same.

I remember thinking, "I just want to be normal again."

So, I got remarried. Like that would make me and my boys normal again. But instead, it just introduced a whole new vocabulary. Stepparents. Stepsisters. Stepbrothers. Blended family. Second marriage. Yours and mine. What I thought would make me feel normal again, just complicated life and made me feel less normal than ever. With each passing day, season of life, and event, I felt less and less normal

So, now that I've stated the obvious and you are all shaking your head because you know exactly what I'm talking about, I can hear you thinking, Okay this is great. But what do we do about it? How do we find normal?

Well, this is a good news, bad news scenario. The bad news is, you will never find normal as you once knew it. But, the good news is, if you choose, you can create a new normal. No matter how hard you try, your blending family will never be nuclear. You will never again know normal as you once did. But now you have an opportunity to build new relationships, start new traditions and experience the freedom to be creative in how your new family defines normal.

If you are divorced, I can only assume you and your children struggle with the "Disneyland Parent." That part-time parent who is all about fun, shopping and weekend activities, leaves you as the one who has to keep the laundry done, chart the chores and make sure homework is finished. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun with your kids as well. You just get to have fun with more than just your own kids. Choose an activity this week that everyone will enjoy. And it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. What we discovered with our kids, especially when they were younger, is that what they wanted most from us was our time and attention. A picnic and kite-flying adventure at the park gave everyone a chance to relax and have fun. However, we learned that giving each of the kids a couple of bucks and letting them pick out their very own kite was a stroke of genius. 

Think of ways you can have some fun. Maybe on the Saturday when everyone's at home, let the kids have ice cream for breakfast. I promise it won't cause too much permanent damage to their health, but the payoff in the health of your blending family is priceless.

Sometimes, though, its more about perspective. How do you choose to see your family? How can you redefine what normal looks like for you? What if you looked at your blending family as a blessing from the Lord and a source of happiness for you and your children instead of a reminder that you are somehow broken?

You make me so happy, God. I saw your work and I shouted for joy. How magnificent your work, God! Psalm 92:4 (The Message)

So, what about you? Where are you in your journey in finding normal

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

Finding Normal ... Have you found it yet?

Somewhere amidst the questions and descriptions in the post "Finding Normal," I see an underlying theme.  Being normal is required for being good enough. As I ponder the words and thoughts, I sense a deep desire that we all share ... to be good enough. Most of society, family of origin and even self-talk tells us that being good enough (whatever that is) is based on our performance. If we are successful, or wealthy, or have successful children or "have it all together," then we are good enough ... acceptable.

I recently read a devotional where the laments of the author were that she just longed to be accepted by her family. She felt like with them, her worth was based on her status as a human doing (her accomplishments) rather than a human being (who she is). I'd heard that before. If ever anyone dares to ask us who we really are, we generally answer by sharing what we do.

But here's a thought. What if, instead of looking at others for approval, or even worse, looking to others as our measuring stick for success ... what if we looked at ourselves through God's eyes? You may be thinking that He's the toughest one of all ... being perfect and everything. And knowing everything about us, like what we think and what our motivations are and what's in our hearts? We can't even pretend to "have it all together" with Him. But look with me at what He says about you. (and these are just off the top of my head.)

Psalm 139:14  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

I know you have all heard this. And we think it is a sweet sentiment. But I always like to look at the context when I pull out a verse from scripture. This Psalm begins with an admission that not only has God "searched me," but He "knows me." Nothing about me is hidden from Him. I can't hide behind accomplishments, or pretend I have pure motives, because he knows the truth. And He still says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Isaiah 43:1  But now, this is what the Lord says -- He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."

This is one of my all-time favorite reminders of how God sees me. Jacob ... formed by God, but not perfect. He was a twin who tricked his brother out of the birthright. He was a deceitful boy who wrestled with God and had his name changed. Far from perfect, but God tells him to not be afraid. God has already redeemed the mess that Jacob makes of things. God not only knows Jacob by name (both of them) but Jacob belongs to God. He is God's very own.

I don't know about you, but I feel like there are lots of things in my life that need redeeming. I've made mistakes along the way (and that's a huge understatement!). Things have happened in my life outside of my control that I wish I could have changed. Those things were damaging to me, yet God says I am redeemed. Whatever it is that has brought you to today, God is enough to redeem it. He knows you. He knows your name. And with God, your name means more than He knows what to call you. A name, with God, means He knows all about you ... your nature, your character, your mistakes, your potential, your true hair color. And even knowing everything about you, you are still HIS.

So ... looking for normal? You have found it. Look into the face of the God who made you, who loves you unconditionally, who redeems everything in your life and who calls you His own.

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

 

 

6 Things I've Learned as a Blending Family

No one said it would be easy. In fact, a few people actually questioned the wisdom of starting a new family. But, for the most part, people were happy and excited about our announcement to become a blending family because "we were just perfect for each other." And we are. But that didn't mean putting six (now seven) people together from two different families wasn't, and isn't still, a challenge. Perhaps some of these lessons will resonate with you and your family. 

1. Everyone is different. Not rocket-science, right? But true. And in blending families there is not always the forgiving heart that normal (see earlier blog) families experience. It is much easier to be patient and loving toward the differences in other family members, when you can term the quirks as endearing because you see them as a reflection of a spouse for whom you still hold affection. Be careful about transferring feelings for a spouse who has caused you pain to the children who are innocent in it all.

2. You have to make room for the luggage. When the girls and their dad moved into my house, I had to do a good bit of rearranging. I had to make room for things that others were bringing with them. I soon learned what was most important to each of the kids, and we had to make sure that there was a secure place for these important items. But along with the things they bring, there is also lots and lots of baggage. Depending on how thoroughly you, your children, your spouse and stepchildren have processed the break-up of their previous household, there are more than likely steamer-trunks full of hurt, pain, and unresolved anger. Make room in the new family for everyone to unpack their trunks. 

3. No one has to be perfect. Being a blending family often makes us feel like we are on display, and there are other people judging what we do and how we do it. While I'm comfortable with my own parenting style, there is another parent in my step-children's life who probably has different ideas about how to parent. While the step-parent may feel the need, nothing says you must be perfect. Give everyone the freedom to be who they are, warts and all. Understand that no one in the family is perfect, and no one expects perfection. 

4. We will never be a nuclear family. There will always be things within each of the biological groups that are unique to that group. There are different experiences, a different family of origin, and different DNA that make that family who they are. Just because you have now joined together, let go of the expectation that you will somehow, magically, become nuclear. Allow freedom in the family for the biological group to be biological.

5. Make forgiveness one of your top priorities. One definition of forgiveness is: giving up my right to hurt you, for hurting me. Blending families are, by nature, the result of broken relationships. Whether through death or divorce, someone has been hurt, feels abandoned, rejected, betrayed or left all alone. Broken relationships require forgiveness. There are likely people who come into the blending family who are still working on forgiveness from the relationship that brought them to this place. The children who have been hurt are trying to learn to forgive parents for making choices they hate, yet are powerless to change. Spouses are working to forgive rejection and betrayal from what they thought would be a life-long mate. The hurt from the broken relationships are only compounded, when unforgiveness becomes the hallmark of the blending family. There will be hurt. There will be anger. You will not be treated as you think you deserve. But if you want to hang on to this family, forgiveness must be the standard. It has been said that forgiveness is a choice long before it is a feeling. Blending a family requires forgiveness ... from everyone and to everyone. 

6. Forget the Brady Bunch. I know I'm revealing my age, but I spent Friday nights as a kid watching the crazy antics of a family that I didn't really understand. These two parents, who each had 3 kids of their own, got together "and became the Brady Brunch." With the exception of lacking an Alice and being short by two kids, that's where we found ourselves as a blending family. Only "the lovely lady who was bringing up two very handsome boys," and "the man named Brady was busy with two girls of his own." While I could really never relate to the show as a child, it took on a whole new meaning when I became a character in the plot. Every week there was some issue (usually among the kids) where the parents and Alice had exactly 30 minutes to bring everyone back to happy smiles and loving hugs. When we became "the Brady's," that was hardly our story.

First of all, we didn't have an Alice. And boy, could we have used one! Secondly, there was the issue of what to call the parents. The girls had a mother already and the boys had a dad (though he was deceased) so the whole mom and dad title didn't work very well. The boys called me mom, the girls called their dad, dad and the step-kids called the other parent by their first name. As I look back, this, in and of itself, brought division. There were biological lines in the sand drawn early, so when the inevitable "you're not my mom/dad and I don't have to do what you say" line came out we realized that we had actually fostered it early on. Am I suggesting that everyone be called mom and dad? Of course not. But realize, that there will be a difference in perception, although subtle even in the labels we use. 

And we rarely had things solved and smiles back on the kids faces after a short "talking to" from dad and "hugs" from the mom. There are still issues today that we continually address as result of our blending family. 

What I did learn is that over time, relationships begin to settle, differences can be addressed in a positive way, and struggles can be met head-on and resolved. The core of the blending family who finds success lies in the grace and forgiveness found only in Christ. No matter our circumstance, we can be overcomers when we allow the Lord to be the center of our heart and the founder of our home. Trust God, pray together and pray for each family member by name. Forgive even when it's hard and you don't feel like it and be willing to be open and vulnerable with those who now share your home. Look for the best in others, and don't forget to laugh.

"I've told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I've conquered the world." Jesus (as recorded in John 16:33, The Message).

 

About the author:

Teri is passionate about teaching, writing, and ministering to fellow sojourners. She spends her days working in ministry and her evenings and weekends being wife and mom. 

First Day of School: the myth!

My first experience as a parent taking a child to kindergarten is one I will never forget!  As a single dad with daughters, I felt the pressure of having my daughter look perfect for the first day of school. That is how it goes, right? Or at least, that's the myth I bought in to.

Taking my oldest daughter to kindergarten (solo) was an emotionally heightened day for me. Single or not, taking the firstborn to school on the first day of school and LEAVING them feels like total abandonment. What if they need us and are unable to reach us?  Or, what if they experience something new (good or bad) for the first time without us there to video the moment? Perish the thought!  So MUCH could happen and it feels like we've completely lost control of our child.  Funny how taking our children to college for the first time feels much the same.

But, my story gets even better.  As I've already mentioned, the myth that haunted me all summer leading up to the first day of kindergarten was the need for my child to look perfect. I was a single dad and I feared that my child would look like the daughter of a single dad.  I could just hear all the other moms, not to mention the school's faculty, whispering behind my child's back. "She's the little girl from that single dad."  I was determined that not only would my child not look like "that little girl from a single dad", but my child would look like she came straight out of the salon. I think that's called overcompensating.

With that goal in mind, on the eve of the first day of school I did something totally foreign to me.  I went to the store and bought sponge rollers.  Remember those?  I only knew of them from TV commercials, but it seemed easy enough that even I could figure it out.  So, as bath time was over and bedtime approached I took out the rollers and commenced to rolling her hair 5 strands at a time. She had long, thick hair so this took a while. When I finished, the poor child could barely hold her head up.  

Next came the big question:  how long do you leave sponge rollers in?  Reflecting on my own childhood it seemed to me my mother wore rollers to bed in order to have a bouffant hairdo the next morning - so that's what we did.  Despite the tears of discomfort, the sponge rollers remained for about 11 hours. Yes, you read that right: 11 hours.  After all, she had to be perfect for the first day of school.  Surely, the longer they were in her hair the better she would look.

Morning came and I was not prepared with the next step of the process.  After taking the rollers out, I was overwhelmed with just how effective they were. Her hair was bigger than her body.  No amount of combing or brushing would settle her hair down.  It was huge. We were both in tears.  I had absolutely ruined her first day of school.  How could she face the other kids?  My goal of perfection was replaced by a fear she would be mocked by the other children, and it was my fault. To make matters worse, in my effort to tame the wild beast on her head I heated up the curling iron thinking that would settle things down.  In the process I accidentally touched the side of her head with the curling iron leaving a big red mark that remained all day.  Way to go Dad!  

Lesson learned? The first day of school is far more about relaxing and enjoying this monumental occasion with your child than it is about making sure everything is perfect. I seriously wish I could have a do-over of that first day.  I know we would have laughed more and cried less. Since then, however, we have laughed a good bit about that day which has served as a simple illustration to me of Romans 8:28. "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him".