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Friday, February 26, 2010

How Do You Define Success?

While watching the Winter Olympics this week, I couldn't help but think about how we define success. The United States continues to lead in the medal count in the Olympic games, but I wonder if that's because we are so caught up in professional athletes we're willing to spend ridiculous amounts of time and money on training, coaching, and whatever else it takes to come out on top. Is winning a gold medal as an Olympian the ultimate of success?

God's view of success is likely very different from ours. I think He challenges each of us with different opportunities but gives the same instructions to everyone on how to achieve success. Joshua 1:8 states:
"Do not let this Book of the Law (the Bible) depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful."

In other words, we will gain success as we read and meditate on God's Word, learn His instructions for us, and then follow those instructions. God leads each of us down a different path with different service and ministry opportunities.

I consider stepparenting one of the ministries God put in my path. To achieve success as a stepparent, I need to follow God's instructions as I parent, striving for faithfulness, humility, love, service, and forgiveness toward my stepchildren. I also need patience and perseverance, for at times the journey is long and difficult.

Success as a stepparent doesn't mean our stepchildren will love and admire us or seek to have a relationship with us. It's a matter of the heart and simply means we are striving to do our part to follow God's standards as we parent. Even if we don't receive the appreciation we would like from our stepchildren, we can know we are viewed as a success in God's eyes.

I read a poem recently that offers light-hearted truth on achieving success:
The road to success is not straight. There is a curve called Failure, a loop called Confusion, speed bumps called Friends, red lights called Enemies, and caution lights called Family. You will have flats called Jobs. But, if you have a spare called Determination, an engine called Perseverance, insurance called Faith, and a driver called Jesus, you will make it to a place called Success.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How to Co-Parent Successfully with your Ex

When I divorced my ex-husband, I didn't want to stay in touch with him. However, we had two children together, and I was forced to learn how to co-parent with him. It took me several months to realize that in order to be successful at co-parenting, we had to sever our emotional ties and create a boundary between our current parenting roles and old marital issues.

Co-parenting works best when both parents put aside differences that resulted in their divorce and work together for the sake of the children. There can't be hidden personal agendas or competition between the parents. If unresolved issues can't be worked through, they need to be set aside, or forgiveness offered, when necessary.

Co-parenting doesn't involve trying to control what goes on in the other home. You may be frustrated or concerned with how the children are parented, but after divorce, you have little influence regarding the other parent and their home. There are many healthy ways to raise children with different parenting styles and rules. It helps to discuss parenting concerns in private and offer respect, if possible, for the other parent.

It's also important to separate child support payments and visitation rights. Children still have a right to see their parent even when child support payments are late or overdue. They don't deserve further pain of being held hostage or used as revenge with an ex-spouse.

Co-parenting at its best gives parents the chance to talk about concerns and decisions regarding the children before conflict or confusion arise. Ongoing dialogue with the other parent either by phone, e-mail, or in person allows successful co-parenting to take place. With poor communication, children may seize the opportunity to take advantage of their parents, resulting in too much control and leverage in their choices.

It's important for children to continue a relationship with both parents after divorce. They need permission to continue a loving relationship and shouldn't have to face an emotional tug-of-war between their parents.

Co-parenting successfully is a goal worth striving for as it can result in happier and more stable children. Even if your ex-spouse wasn't a good marriage partner, it doesn't mean he/she isn't a good parent, and may surprise with playing an attentive parenting role after divorce.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Life's Too Short to Stay Mad

Laundry seems to be a never-ending task at our house with six people living under the same roof. So, I decided to start washing a load of clothes early this morning and found the washer full of my stepson's clothes. My older teens are responsible for doing their own laundry but the rule is: when you start a load of clothes, finish the process - through the dryer and then to your room.

We had the same problem a few days ago. I found my stepson's clothes in the washer after he had gone out for the evening. So when I discovered a full washer again this morning, I was not happy. He was still in bed so I couldn't start laundry without waking him up or managing the clothes myself.

I could have stayed mad about it, dwelling on how many times I've addressed this problem in the past. However, that would only make for a bad start to a new week. So, I decided to discuss the incident once again, asking for his help to please abide by the house rules so we don't have to manage his laundry. He quickly apologized and left for school.

I'm constantly reminded of the need to show the Fruits of the Spirit to our children. Galatians 5:22-23 says, "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." We are given opportunities everyday to react in kindness, gentleness, and self-control or react in impatience and anger.

I can't say I always react with love and kindness but I know it betters my relationships when I do. I also know life is too short to stay mad.

I have a dear friend who passed away last week after a short illness. Although it would appear from human eyes that his work on earth was not finished, God had a different plan.

Our days on this earth are numbered. We think we have ample chances to show love and goodness to others. But we may not. Why not make the best of every day we have left?


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #15: Don't Keep Score

Today I conclude my series on Healthy Stepparenting tips. I want to focus on an intentional action we can take to stabilize our relationships during and after periods of conflict. It's a simple suggestion that carries a lot of weight: Don't keep score.

When we've been hurt or wronged by someone else, it's easy to get caught up in negative thoughts toward that person. If we don't forgive them, bitterness will creep in as we start tracking every misdeed.

What do we gain by keeping score when our spouse or stepchild wrongs us? Will it change their behavior? Does it offer any positive result for us?

Keeping score allows a prideful spirit to insist our way is right. It gets in the way of reconciliation as it airs an attitude of self-righteousness.

When we've been wronged, we can choose to forgive and let it go.

Perhaps we're keeping score because we can't overlook minor offenses. Or maybe we tend to be overly sensitive and react with anger or hurt feelings to every irritation we encounter. Some people like to dwell on other's faults because it keeps them from looking at their own faults.

Keeping score is a dangerous game in relationships. It may offer a temporary sense of satisfaction but leads to long-term bondage. When we hold a grudge and keep track of other's offenses, we invite disharmony into our home.

Forgiveness offers freedom. It's an intentional choice. And it's a choice worth making time and again.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #14: Trust God's Power to Heal Relationships in your Family

I just finished studying the story of Lazarus in the book of John. It's a compelling story of how Jesus chose to raise Lazarus from the dead after he had "been in the tomb for four days." (John 11:17).

You can picture the scene with Jesus first arriving and asking Lazarus' sister, Mary, to move the stone from the tomb. Now the grave lay open for all to see.

Tombs in Israel were caves with a hollowed-out place with shelves for bodies to be placed. Lazarus, as a Jew, would have been clothed in a linen garment, with his arms and legs tied with bandages and his head wrapped in a towel.

Suddenly Jesus cried out, "Lazarus, come out!" The surrounding mourners must have been terrified as Lazarus appeared at the entrance of the cave, still covered with the burial cloth and bandages. What a miracle to witness as the power of Jesus Christ had brought him back to life.

As believers, we have access to that same power today. We may not witness one being raised from the dead, but we can certainly witness Jesus' healing power around us.

Loss from divorce or death leads to brokenness that can destroy relationships. If someone in your family needs emotional or spiritual healing, pray for Jesus' healing hand. It is possible to experience healing from broken hearts and painful encounters with others.

We may need healing in our own lives before we can reach out to others. When we're hurt by our stepchildren, our natural choice is to draw back from the relationship or react in anger. But as we experience healing of the hurt, we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable again as we seek to move forward.

If our stepchildren are upset or bitter toward us because of their own loyalty issues or other problems, we can pray for softened hearts through emotional healing. It may take months or years before we see results, but Jesus' healing power can work miracles in our families if we believe in His power and pray for His healing.

Don't negate the power of Jesus' healing hand. I've witnessed it in my own family. Our step-relationships are miraculously different today because of the power of healing through faithful prayer.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #13: Embrace Flexibility As You Adjust to Change

Stepfamilies have more change, on average, than nuclear families. Schedules change, living arrangements change, relationships change, just to name a few. If we learn to be embrace flexibility, change will be easier for us.

Five years into our marriage, my stepdaughter left our home to go live with her mother, over 100 miles away. I was hurt and saddened by her decision. I didn't understand how it could be healthy for her to live somewhere else while her brother stayed with us. Her empty chair at the dinner table was a daily reminder of the change our family had experienced.

Several years later, her mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and died a year later. It was a devastating loss for both my stepchildren. It was also a huge change for all our family. My biological children began asking questions about the likelihood of that happening to me and became fearful of illness. We were all forced to adjust to life in a different way after her loss.

We've experienced other changes such as job loss, relocation, school changes, career changes, financial changes and relationship changes among family members. Some of the change has been good but some of it has been very difficult.

I've learned that I can adjust to change easier when I look for God's guidance with each step, remaining flexible as I seek to carry out His plans.

Change offers an opportunity to mature in our faith as we let go of our control and make room for God's sovereign way. It may be uncomfortable at times, but our faith is strengthened as we rely on God and trust His ways.

Hebrews 11:8 gives an account of how Abraham allowed change in his life when surrounded by uncertainty. "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." God asked Abraham to leave behind his comfortable surroundings and embark on unfamiliar territory at 75 years of age! Abraham obeyed and was rewarded abundantly.

As stepparents, we may not be asked to make as drastic a change as Abraham did, but we do venture into unfamiliar territoy and need God's direction. If we remain flexible, we will adjust to transition easier.

It's also comforting to remember that, although our life is constantly changing, God is unchangeable. "I the Lord do not change." (Malachi 3:6) His faithful presence is our reasurrance as we progress through change.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #12: Seek Out Stepfamily Support

Happy Valentine's Day!

Don't forget to do something special for your spouse and children today!

With just a few more posts on what we can do to help adjust to our stepparenting role, I want to mention stepfamily support.

My husband, Randy, and I just returned from a conference, Building a Successful Stepfamily by Ron Deal. It was a wonderful conference with a lot of great information. Ron is a licensed counselor and has been working with stepfamilies for over 20 years. He has written several books that are excellent resources for stepparents that can be found on his website, along with a ton of other resources. I highly recommend his conferences and other materials.

There are other websites and magazines that can be helpful for stepfamilies. Here are a few I suggest:

InStep Ministries: a nonprofit organization that provides practical, Biblical resources, support and counsel to single, divorced and remarried individuals and their families.

Restored and Remarried: offers an encouraging seminar on remarriage and the stepfamily adventure.

Opportunities Unlimited: offers presentation on "Designing Dynamic Stepfamilies: Bringing the Pieces to Peace."

Don't go the journey alone. There are a lot of great materials to tap in to for help on your stepfamily journey.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #11: Walk With God Daily

As a stepparent, it's hard to know what may happen tomorrow. Our stepchildren may decide to go live with their other parent or if they're living in another home, they may choose to come live with us. We could begin to encounter resistance and anger that we haven't seen before once they reach adolescence. Or their other parent may decide to re-marry, opening up new territory to manage.

Life is full of uncertainty. But the one thing we can count on is that God will walk with us daily if we choose to let Him. The Bible speaks of God's faithfulness and never-ending love for us continually. Psalm 46:1-3 says, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging."

We are called to seek after Him and He will be our refuge and strength.

When our youngest son, Nathan(pictured above), was a year old, he was involved in a car accident that could have been fatal. We were told in the Emergency Room that young children are often killed in accidents similar to what Nathan went through. However, we are convinced that God's presence protected him.

Although it was a traumatic event, we saw God's hand at work. We had friends in the Emergency Room who helped with our other children while we tended to Nathan. We were surrounded by family in the days ahead as we repeatedly changed dressings, gave medication, and took turns trying to keep a one-year-old still (not an easy feat).

We saw a broken leg mend and tire burns and lacerations heal without any recollection of the accident for Nathan. However, Nathan has scars on one leg that still remind us of how God walked with us that day and spared his life.

There will likely be difficulties in your stepfamily that could lead you to despair and frustration. But as you choose to walk with Him during those times, He will take you to the other side to experience freedom and tranquility.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #10: Offer Grace Freely

If you have biological children and stepchildren, you may find it easier to offer grace to your biological children than you do your stepchildren. But the truth is, our stepchildren greatly need and deserve our grace.

It's easy for our biological children to feel unconditional love and acceptance from us. It's natural for us to offer grace to the children we bore. But it may feel uncomfortable and unnatural to offer love, grace and acceptance to our stepchildren. We may not feel love toward them. We may not believe they are worthy of our grace. But we have been offered grace we don't deserve either.

Christ offers unconditional love and never-ending grace on a daily basis. In fact, I believe Christ knew how badly I needed to feel His grace after my divorce. As a result, he gave me a second husband with the name "Grace," allowing me to carry that name for the last 14 years. It's a daily reminder of His grace that surrounds me.

You are probably familiar with the common acronym for Grace - God's Riches at Christ's Expense. But I recently heard another one I like as well - God's Radical and Complete Embrace. What a sweet picture that paints of God's love for us. And what a great reminder of the grace we should offer our stepchildren - radical and complete embrace.

Are you up for it? I know it may not feel comfortable or natural. But just because something isn't comfortable for us, doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #9: Learn to Cope with Rejection

As our series on adjusting to the stepparenting role winds down, I've saved a few posts to talk about issues that have hugely impacted me or my stepfamily. Today, I want to tackle feelings of rejection.

During my years of stepparenting, I've dealt with more rejection than I want to think about. As I write about it today, I recognize the lump in my throat and sick-to-my-stomach feeling that accompanies rejection. But I've learned to cope with rejection by realizing that my identity and self-worth are found in Jesus Christ, the One Who will forever love me.

My self-worth is not dependent on my stepchildren loving me or accepting me as their stepmom. It is not dependent on whether my husband agrees with every move I make with his children. My self-worth and identity are dependent upon my acceptance of Christ's love and forgiveness for me.

Rejection comes in different forms but can be felt when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others, but are not accepted by them. It usually stems from unresolved issues by the rejecting person. And although feelings of rejection are painful, it doesn't mean we have failed or done something wrong.

Rejection of a stepparent is most commonly related to loyalty issues the stepchild is combating. (See blog post on Loyalty Issues). As a stepparent continues to love and care for his stepchild amidst feelings of rejection, a relationship can develop over time. But it requires a lot of patience and dedicated prayer to continue to love someone who is rejecting you.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ's love is "wide and long and high and deep." (Ephesians 3:18) It offers peace and comfort during times of distress and dissension. If offers a way of escape during times of piercing words and threatening actions. His love is readily available for us when we choose to turn to Him and accept it.

Rejection is never easy to deal with. As a stepparent, it may come and go or disappear altogether as the relationship grows. But when we choose to accept that our sense of self and identity are dependent on our worth in Christ, not on other people, we can learn to cope with rejection.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #8: Find Balance

Today I want to include an article I wrote a few years ago when I was struggling to find balance in my life. I was overwhelmed with my responsibilities as a wife, stepmom, graduate student, and pregnant mother. I sought to make changes to relieve my feelings that were paralyzing me from fulfilling my roles.

As a stepparent, it's easy to get covered up with too much to do and too many people to take care of. It's our responsibility to find direction and balance in our roles. I hope you find the article helpful and would love to hear how you find balance in your life.

Living Life with Balance

When our family moved to Conway, AR from Texas ten years ago, I wrestled with an imbalanced life for several months. With three children in tow, and pregnant with another, I felt emotionally and physically spent. Our children struggled to adjust to elementary school after leaving family and friends behind in another state. I was finishing a Master’s degree that required completing two classes at the University of Central Arkansas, while studying for comprehensive exams covering two years of course work.

My husband worked in Jacksonville, adjusting to a new job that included long hours and a lengthy commute. Balancing my responsibilities became a daily struggle. Although I couldn’t change the circumstances at the time, I knew I had to do something different.

Balance is defined as “stability of body or mind” and “harmony and proportion.” Balance creates an environment for better health and allows for higher productivity. Without it, we experience instability and dissatisfaction.

When looking at our roles, women often wear many hats: wife, stepmom, employee, chauffeur, nurse, home manager,counselor, school volunteer … just to name a few. It’s easy to become overwhelmed unless we find a healthy balance, mindful of our time and responsibilities.

When we strive for balance, it’s important to look at how we spend our time in relation to what is important to us. We can ask ourselves, “Am I devoting enough time to the activities I am most interested in or simply going along with what I think has to be done? Am I reacting to last minute demands or planning ahead?” It’s necessary to establish our priorities and set our goals accordingly.

Learning to say no is the easiest way to take control of our time.

There are a lot of wonderful organizations and activities we can be involved in, but if we are seeking a life of balance, we must choose to participate in those that are most important to us.

Healthy balance also includes proper diet and exercise, along with adequate sleep. A study on lifespan reports, “People who maintain normal weight live an extra 11 years. People who exercise regularly live an extra 2.4 years.” While these are general figures for a large group of people, they illustrate the significance of proper diet and exercise.

Proper diet includes consuming more high-fiber foods, increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables, cutting down on too much fat and sugar, and lowering our salt consumption. Choosing foods with low-calorie density can also help with weight control. Low-density foods have a high water content, allowing a larger portion size with fewer calories. Examples of low-density foods include low-fat dairy products, broth-based soups, beans, and fruits and vegetables.

Regular exercise also contributes to balance by regulating mood swings, increasing energy levels and aiding with a variety of health issues. Research has shown that exercise reduces stress and improves our thinking. Even a small amount of exercise goes a long way toward improving our health and helping us feel better.

Adequate sleep is a key to balance that is often overlooked. Good sleep habits result in clearer thinking and sharper judgment. And some good news recently published: a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that women who get adequate sleep (seven or more hours per night) are less likely to gain weight than those who don’t. Lack of sleep appears to negatively affect the hormones that regulate our appetite. What better reason to get to bed on time?

Another factor to consider as we look toward balance is spirituality. Joining a Bible study or participating in a prayer group can bring us a deeper sense of wholeness and harmony, as we grow spiritually.

An interesting book written by Dr. Jeff Levin, God, Faith, and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection, describes the connection between faith and health. His research gives numerous examples of the positive effects of faith as relating to health and wellness. One reviewer of the book, Janet Quinn, Ph.D., R.N., states, “…Levin reminds us of what we can no longer afford to ignore: that our spiritual life matters mightily to our health and well-being at every level.”

Lastly, we need to remember the importance of leisure time as we strive for balance. Coffee with a girlfriend, date night with our husband, or reading a book in a secluded place (away from the computer, PDA, and pager) may be the perfect solution to a long day. Making time to do what we enjoy recharges our energy levels when we return to our daily commitments.

Life with balance allows us better health, greater happiness and more productive lives. We may always lead busy lives, but if we are intentional with our time and responsibilities, we can live a life with balance.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Healthy Stepparenting #7 Nurture Your Marriage

My 17-year-old daughter recently told me about one of her friends who is without a home. Her stepdad kicked her mother and the three kids out of their house and they had nowhere to go. The kids are staying with friends from school and the mother is staying with a friend from work, hoping to come up with enough money to find an apartment and bring her and the kids back together. What a sad situation. It breaks my heart to think of the emotional turmoil these kids are in because the parents couldn't work through their differences.

Marriage is hard. And re-marriage with kids is even harder. But when we commit to marry again and have children as part of the package, the stakes are high. It should be a serious commitment. Our children deserve to see a healthy marriage modeled that offers stability and security. Healing of their brokenness from death or divorce can only occur as they witness relationships that genuinely care for one another.

Nurturing your marriage takes time. It includes the opportunity to date and be attentive to one another. It allows for time away from the demands of parenting to reconnect. It recognizes the need to work through challenges as they occur, not allowing anger or hurt feelings to be swept under the rug.

Nurturing your marriage means the marriage relationship takes priority over the relationships with the children. This is a hard concept in stepfamilies because there is a longer history between the biological parent and the kids than with the new spouse, but the marriage must be honored for what it is. There is enough love for everyone, though, and the maturing marital relationship can provide security for the children as they form a relationship with their new stepparent.

Nurturing your marriage is an intentional action. You don't have to wait until February 14th to do something special for your spouse. Any day is a great day to surprise your mate with some fresh flowers or their favorite home-cooked meal. What will you do today to nurture your marriage?