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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Do You Express Kindness to Your Family?

In this picture is my daughter, Jodi and a good friend of hers, Beth (left to right). As high school students, they share a sweet friendship. I recently learned that Beth has a unique way of showing kindness to others. She participates in Random Acts of Kindness Day once a month. On that day, Beth brings Jodi (and other friends) a cupcake or some other kind of yummy food. She doesn't tell Jodi in advance but shows up at the door with her surprise. What a great way to show kindness toward others.

Today we focus on the next Fruit given in Galatians 5:22, 23: Kindness. I thought it would be a good chance to think about ways we can show kindness to our family members. So, I'm including a list of kind deeds. Find one you can share with a family member today or leave me a comment with another act of kindness you practice.

1. Bake their favorite food.
2. Let them know you're praying for them.
3. Help with their chores when their schedule is busy.
4. Offer encouraging words.
5. Volunteer in their activities.
6. Allow their friends over.
7. Listen to their "drama," even if it's after your bedtime.
8. Overlook their shortcomings.
9. Leave sweet notes for them to read.
10. Take them shopping.

And on and on. There are hundreds of ways to show others we care through kind actions.

Kindness is contagious. It can make a difference in our relationships. What act of kindness will you express today?


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Effects of PATIENCE in Blended Families

I love the beauty of Spring. Flowers planted months ago begin to show their delicate blooms. The effects of planting, fertilizing, and watering can be enjoyed as perfectly shaped flower petals emerge. It's a process that requires work and patience. But the end result can be enjoyed for months or years.

The same is true of relationships in blended families. The process requires work and patience. But the end result can be enjoyed for years.

Today we continue our focus on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22, 23: PATIENCE. It's a difficult quality to attain but a necessary one to possess in blended families.

Patience is defined as "bearing or enduring pain, difficulty, provocation or annoyance with calmness; capable of calmly awaiting an outcome or result; persevering."

It's interesting to see the words calmness and calmly both listed in the definition. As we calmly wait for change to take place in our relationships,we practice patience. Good things can happen while we wait. I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago describing the positive apects of waiting.

Stepfamily experts tell us the average stepfamily takes seven years to integrate. A complex stepfamily (when both parents bring children to the marriage, like ours) can take longer. Ugh. Seven years can seem like an eternity when you're in the middle of it. The importance of patience appears obvious.

So, what are the effects of practicing patience in a blended family? For our family, it has been life changing. My stepchildren were taught early on that I was the enemy. They resisted any kind of relationship with me because I was criticized and belittled in their other home. It was a discouraging situation that I couldn't change. It was only through God's grace that I was able to patiently continue to pursue a relationship.

As years passed, my stepchildren began to form their own opinion of me. They opened up their hearts to the possibility of a loving relationship. We engaged in meaningful conversations that allowed a connection to occur. It was a long process that seemed to include one step forward and two steps backward, but the walls began to come down that were built up years before. Finally, we were able to engage in healthy relationships with one another.

Patience in a blended family requires setting aside our selfish desires and doing the work required for a positive result. It means facing our fears and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships. It doesn't happen naturally or easily, but can have life altering benefits.

So, where do you need to exert more patience today in your blended family? Maybe it's with a stepchild or perhaps it's with your spouse. It could even be with yourself. Identify your weak spots and commit to practicing patience daily. And on those days it seems too hard to keep going, remember the long-term benefits you will reap if you don't give up.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Can You Live in Peace While Blending a Family?

Today our focus is on PEACE from Galatians 5:22, 23. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, PEACE, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

Living in peace seemed like a tall order at our house during the early years of our marriage. The constant activity with four young children learning how to live together and parents who were learning how to parent together was overwhelming. Parenting dilemmas brought constant bickering about what was fair to one child but unfair to another. My husband and I both battled a natural bias toward our biological kids, creating ongoing tension with each other.

It's natural for conflict to occur while blending a family. As different personalities emerge with contrasting parenting styles, disagreements ensue. But as we work through our struggles with one another (in a healthy manner), we begin to grow and develop relationships.

How we handle conflict determines its outcome. Withdrawing from it or angrily discussing the situation, with accusations or sarcasm, will not solve the problem. When conflict occurs, the family members involved need to discuss it as soon as possible, listening to all sides with an open mind and arriving at solutions or compromises that seem fair to all parties.

Attaining peace while blending a family requires work on our part. Psalms 34:14 instructs us to: "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." Peace is reached if we pursue it. We must be intentional in our efforts. But peace in our relationships is a goal worth pursuing.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Finding JOY in the Rain

My family and I are on a camping trip during our kid's spring break. We thought it would be fun to go to the highest peak in Arkansas and set up camp for a few days. Hiking, fishing, and family time around a campfire sounded like a great idea when we were making plans. But we didn't bargain for the rain. And a flooded tent. And wet food. And grumpy kids. Where do you find joy in the rain?

Today we look at the second fruit of the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, 23: JOY. How do we find joy in stepfamily life when our plans get rained on?

It's not easy but I think it starts with our focus. We can choose to stay focused on our negative surroundings or find nuggets of positive change. We can make the best of difficult circumstances or stay fixated on our problems.

As a child, I learned an acronym for JOY that can be applied as an adult:

J - Jesus

If we focus on Jesus first, Others second, and ourselves last, we can find joy in our circumstances. Jf we look to Jesus for help and guidance, we gain wisdom in our decisions. If we consider our stepchildren's needs over our own, we build long-term relationships.

Joy describes an inner peace and sense of satisfaction that can be attained, regardless of our circumstances. We may not be happy with rebellious teen-agers or disappointing report cards, but we can experience joy in our heart as we look to the Lord for answers.

James 1:2 tells us to, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance." Trials are hard and long at times, but the end result is good when we develop character that sustains us for what lies ahead.

Our camping trip didn't turn out as we'd hoped. Sleeping in the tent another night was inconceivable with drenched sleeping bags and a leaking tarp. So, we chose to start home a day early, looking toward a movie and nice dinner out. Since we couldn't change our surroundings, we chose another route as we sought to find joy in the midst of disappointment.

I'm certain we will experience rain again on our stepfamily journey. It may be a drizzle or a downpour. But we can experience JOY in the midst of it if we maintain the proper focus.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do You Love Your Stepkids?

We're focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22, 23 for a few days and how we can apply them in our relationships with our stepchildren.

The first fruit given is love. I think if we're perfectly honest, sometimes it's hard to love our stepkids. We want to love them and we try to love them, but sometimes we don't feel love. It's okay to admit that. But we don't want to get stuck there forever.

So, how can we change that? I think the first thing we can do is pray that God will soften our heart toward them. As we pray for their needs and our relationship with them regularly, we will begin to take a more positive attitude toward them.

Another intentional action we can take is to find common ground with them to build upon. If they enjoy sports, take an interest in their games. If they enjoy music, attend their concerts and have conversation with them about it. Try to find something you have in common or both enjoy that you can talk about and participate in together. If it is awkward to be alone with your stepchild, use another person as a buffer until the relationship is stronger.

An Al-Anon slogan that I love is, "Let it begin with me." Al-Anon is a support group for families of alcoholics that I attended regularly throughout my first marriage. The slogans and steps can apply to any relationship. If I choose to work at changing myself, it will in turn, change others. I can give to others what I want to receive and become what I want to attract. As I react with love and kindness, those around me will respond to my behavior.

Loving our stepchildren may not come naturally. But we can choose to do our part in developing a relationship with them, showing care and concern. Over time, it's likely a love for them will flourish.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Does Your Mirror Reflect Fruit of the Spirit?

I spent a good amount of time working in the yard this week-end. The onset of Spring means there are shrubs to prune, leaves to rake, flower beds to weed, new mulch to put down and grass to mow. We live in a neighborhood in Central Arkansas with beautiful trees but when the leaves drop, the work must begin.

While raking, I was reminded of the work required to cultivate a garden or a flower bed. It doesn't just happen. You must till the soil, plant the seed, water the ground, weed the bed, look for sunshine, watch for bugs, pray for rain, hope for the best and prepare for new growth. It is an exciting endeavor but it requires work.

If we want the fruit of the Spirit reflected in our life, we must work at it also. It will not happen naturally. Galatians 5:22,23 tells us, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."

As we seek to develop healthy relationships with our stepchildren, what better way than to show the fruit of the Spirit in all we do? But that is a tall order. Thankfully, we aren't meant to do it alone. As believers, we have the Holy Spirit to help us. As we yield to His guidance daily, we can demonstrate Christ-like character with those around us.

I want my life to reflect the fruit of the Spirit but I must stop and look in the mirror regularly to see how I'm doing. So over the next two weeks, I want to walk through the fruit of the Spirit one by one and look at how we can apply each one more effectively in our stepfamily relationships.

We start with love. See you next time!


Friday, March 19, 2010

Good Things Happen When We Wait

It seems we have to wait for so many things. We wait on God to answer our prayers. We wait on test results to come back from the doctor. We wait for Winter to end so Spring can begin. We wait on a good relationship to form with our stepchildren. And on and on.

But good things can happen when we wait. As we wait on God to answer our prayers, we can learn trust and dependence on Him. We can seek out Scripture that is meaningful to us. We can develop a stronger character as we wait that will carry us through difficult times.

As we wait on relationships to form with our stepchildren, we can gain understanding and patience with one another. We can dare to choose risk and make ourselves vulnerable, even if our stepchildren don't. We can commit to investing ourselves in a loving relationship, regardless of the outcome.

We can still enjoy life while we wait. We can distract ourselves with other activities to make the waiting easier. Or, we can take the next healthy step to speed up the waiting process. However we approach it, if we choose to keep a positive outlook on the situation, the waiting will be easier.

Waiting is hard and few people do it well. But if we believe the Promises of Scripture, we can trust the process and know the Lord will see us through.

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40: 31

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Do Your Stepchildren Call You?

I was talking with a therapist recently about a stepfamily she was counseling. The stepdad couldn't recognize that he was alienating his stepdaughter by insisting she call him Dad. The stepdaughter had a biological dad with a steady relationship and wasn't interested in calling anyone else in her life Dad.

As a stepparent, it's easier to take on a parental role if our stepchildren choose to call us Mom or Dad. But oftentimes, that doesn't happen. Demanding to be called a certain name is selfish and power-seeking. Our stepchildren need the freedom to choose what they feel comfortable calling us (within reason, of course).

My two girls wanted to call my husband, Dad, at an early age. However, their father was too insecure to allow it and made threatening comments to them if they talked about it. Several years into our marriage, the girls made the decision to call my husband, Dad, despite the opposition from their biological dad. The relationship with my husband over years of stepparenting created bonds strong enough to warrant the label, Dad. To remain at peace with their biological dad, they hid their decision and called my husband by his first name in front of their dad. However, now in their young adult years, they no longer hide their affectionate relationship and openly call him Dad, even with their biological father around.

On the other hand, my two stepchildren have always called me by my first name. I'm not crazy about it and would love to be called Mom but see little chance of that happening now. Since their biological mom passed away over five years ago, the loyalty conflict is even stronger, preventing them from calling anyone else Mom.

We can have a positive relationship with our stepchildren, regardless of whether they call us Mom or Dad or not. If we're involved as a caring stepparent, it's likely we're considered a parental figure, even if we don't carry the label we desire.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stepparenting Inspiration

Bob Wieland

I read an incredible story today of a Vietnam Vet who overcame huge odds to make a difference in life.

Bob Wieland was a young baseball player from Wisconsin, negotiating a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, when he was called to serve in Vietnam. As a medic, Wieland perfomed his duties with care, while longing to be back on the baseball fields in his home state.

In June, 1969, Wieland's life was changed forever when he stepped on a booby trap while trying to help a friend. Explosions rang out around him as the 82 mm buried mortar - a round designed to destroy tanks - blew off his legs. Wieland was pronounced DOA (dead on arrival) at the hospital.

But Wieland's life was far from over. A nurse found movement in the body bag he had been placed in and resuscitated him to life. He embarked upon a recovery process marked by faith, determination and courage.

While in the hospital, Wieland began lifting weights. He couldn't even lift five pounds to start but persisted in training everyday and began getting stronger. His athletic persona took over and he eventually broke the world record in bench press in his weight division on four occasions - lifting 507 pounds. However, he was disqualified for not wearing shoes and finally banned from the sport!

Not easily discouraged, Wieland opted for another sport and began training for marathons. He has completed the New York, Los Angeles, and Marine Corp Marathons on his HANDS! Wrapped in rubber pads, his hands perform as his feet.

From there, he went on to complete the grueling Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii - the only double amputee to ever complete it without a wheelchair.

But he claims the most exciting marathon he completed was a walk across America! He endured three years, eight months and six days of walking on his hands as he traveled from Los Angeles to the Vietnam Memorial to raise money for Veterans, the poor and the hungry.

Wieland's inspiring motto can be applied to any endeavor, including stepparenting:

"It's always too early to quit."

He credits his success to his faith and his foundational belief, "Nothing is impossible with God." Known as "Mr. Inspiration" for good reason, he travels the world telling his story to live life "AOA (alive on arrival)" instead of remaining DOA.

Quitting was not an option for Bob Wieland. It shouldn't be an option for us either.

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phillippians 4:13

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sick of Stepparenting?

I'm recovering from a stomach virus today and I've noticed I need more rest and a break in my schedule to make it through the day. I skipped my 6 AM Thursday prayer group to catch an extra hour of sleep. I also changed my usual routine to allow more time at home for rest and self-care. My eating still consists of crackers and Gatorade but I'm cautiously adding a few more items to my diet.

If we take extra care of ourselves when we get physically sick, should we treat ourselves differently when we get emotionally sick of stepparenting? If you've been a stepparent long, you've probably had those days when you're sick of the stepparenting routine. You know the routine I'm referring to: mundane parenting tasks without regard as a parent, constant responsibility for your stepchildren with very few rights, and continuous energy toward doing the right thing with little or no appreciation.

If you're suffering from the "sick of stepparenting" routine, maybe you need extra time for self-care. Go for a walk. Have lunch with a friend. Schedule a massage. Plan a week-end away with your spouse. Take a break from your regular routine and do something nice for yourself.

Stepparenting can be a demanding role. As stepparents, we need to decide when it's time to take a break from the routine to refill our reservoir, enabling us to continue down the stepparenting journey again.

Do you need a break today? Do you need a week-end away from the routine? Take it! As a stepparent, you deserve it.

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Monday, March 8, 2010

Stepparenting Feels Like I'm Running a Marathon

I watched countless marathon runners (including my husband) cross the finish line yesterday at the Little Rock Marathon. It's always an inspiring event with people from all walks of life. As a runner myself, I understand the time and commitment required to run a marathon. I began thinking about the similarities between marathon training and successful stepparents as we left the event.

1. You must be willing to dedicate a lot of time.

Preparing to run 26.2 miles is a big deal. The training schedule involves 18-22 weeks of strenuous running, along with other cross training workouts. Attempting to run a marathon without the training leads to failure.

Successful stepparenting also involves a lot of time. Stepping into your stepchild's life and expecting an instant relationship only leads to disappointment. You must be willing to spend time getting to know your stepchild, understand his/her likes and dislikes, and find common ground on which to build a relationship.

2. You can expect setbacks along the way.

Long distance training often leads to injury. The workouts are hard and your body begins to break down. An unexpected weakness shows up through a muscle strain, bone fracture, or ligament tear. With adequate rest and therapy, injuries heal and the training can begin again.

Stepparents can also expect setbacks. A difficult ex-spouse, rebellious teen-ager, or unexpected conflict can lead to setback. It may takes months or years to work through a difficult phase, but progress can always begin again if you don't give up.

3. The biggest prize comes at the end but there are rewards along the journey.

The medal earned for completing a marathon is placed around the runner's neck as he crosses the finish line. However, a sense of pride and satisfaction is enjoyed throughout the training period as a runner sets and reaches goals he never dreamed possible.

The greatest reward for successful stepparenting is experienced as stepchildren leave home, thankful for healthy interaction and strong relationships shared with one another. However, stepparenting also has rewards throughout the journey as bonding occurs and love for one another develops.

Successful stepparenting, like marathon training, has rewards worth seeking. But the journey to the finish line can also be cherished.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Five Strategies for Successful Stepparenting

I want to include an article today I wrote a few years ago on tips for successful stepparenting. I've revised the article to include additional thoughts. Hope you find it helpful.


My head began to pound as I listened to the children arguing again. My husband, Randy, and I had been married only a few short months, combining two families of four children, ages two - ten. I knew there would be challenges but I believed our love for each child would be enough to make up for the hurt and loss of divorce.

I was wrong.

My stepchildren, Payton and Adrianne, didn't want another mother. They had one they dearly loved already. I was simply the woman who married their father, now forcing them to share him with two other children.

My love for Payton and Adrianne didn't come naturally. I experienced impartial feelings toward my own children, creating a barrier with my stepchildren. The emotional strain I felt every day was overwhelming as I sought to unconditionally love and accept each child.

I began asking myself, "How can I create a stable relationship with my stepchildren when the odds are stacked against me?"

After several months of struggling to understand my role, I began to discover ways to make my stepparenting job easier. I learned many lessons the hard way but believe we can take steps toward successful step-relationships by following these strategies:

1. Be realistic with your expectations, particularly in the beginning. Most stepchildren do not want a stepparent. They need a great deal of time to form a loving relationship. Be prepared to face opposition, but don't take everything personally. Sometimes, a stepchild's misplaced anger is directed at the nearest target.

2. Make your marriage a priority. Set aside time and continue to nurture your marital relationship. When the going gets rough with the children, find solace in your mate.

3. Move into a disciplinary role slowly. Give your stepchild time to trust and respect you before taking a disciplinary approach. Let your spouse take the lead with his/her children to prevent anger or bitterness as you form a relationship with them.

4. Take care of yourself - physically, mentally, and emotionally. Maintain a reasonable schedule that allows time for hobbies, physical exercise and mental stimulation, along with rest and solitude. Stepparenting is emotionally exhausting and must be coupled with activities that provide enjoyment, replenishment, and reward.

5. Above all else, seek the Lord, with prayer and perseverance. Never give up on reaching a harmonious relationship. Look to the Lord during times of discouragement and dissension. Memorize encouraging Scriptures from which to draw strength during crises. Remind yourself that time has a healing affect and good relationships develop slowly.

Step-relationships don't happen quickly but stepparents can play an important part in guiding and nurturing stepchildren. It is a challenging, but rewarding, role.

Affirm your value as a stepparent today and celebrate the opportunity you've been given to make a difference in a child's life.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Is it More Important to be Right or be Happy?

At the gym recently, I was approached by a lady who insisted the bike I was preparing to mount for a cycling class was saved for her. I politely told her there were no signs the bike was saved and continued adjusting the seat heighth. She marched outside the door and brought her adolescent son in to tell me he had put a towel on the bike to save it. I quietly explained there was not a towel on it when I came in. I also mentioned it was against gym rules to save bikes. She began raising her voice at me and demanding she ride that particular bike. As others began staring at us, I opted to find another bike for class. I wasn't interested in creating a scene over what bike I rode.

Upon leaving class, she waited outside the door. I didn't want to speak with her and walked on by. However, she approached me and remarked, "You are a rude person." When I kept walking without acknowledging her, she said it again. Go figure. I gave up my bike so she could have her way and she was still unhappy about the ordeal. Convinced she had a right to use that particular bike, she didn't let up on her position.

I left the gym thinking, "Is is that important to be right? Do we need to alienate others in the process while demanding our way?"

How often do we do that in our marriage? Do we insist our parenting style is right because that's how we've always done it and it works with our kids? Do we require our spouse parent the same way we do? Maybe our style doesn't work with our stepkids. Maybe we need to re-evaluate our spouse's position on how to parent his/her kids.

When we insist our way is right, we leave no room for compromise. We offend and alienate those around us.

Relationships are more important than our need to be right. As we work together, we can learn to live in harmony with one another. We can discover the beauty of happiness through letting go of our way.

While attending Al-Anon (a support group for families of alcoholics) during my first marriage, I learned to diffuse arguments with a simple statement, "You could be right." That simply acknowledges another person's opinion without agreeing with their position. It allows the other person to recognize you've heard what they've said and will consider their view. It also enables a disagreement to end without either person taking a superior position.

Letting go of the need to be right allows peaceful resolution with others. It offers a mature alternative to disagreement. It can result in contentment instead of bitterness.

Consider taking the challenge today to seek happiness instead of rightness.