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Friday, April 29, 2011

The Perfect Opportunity for Grace

"I'm failing my International Business class," my stepson Payton relayed to me through tears. "It doesn't matter how much I study, I don't do well on Ms. Cantrell's tests and I'm afraid it's too late in the semester to pull my grade up to passing."

As a 3rd year college student, Payton understands the consequences of failing a class at this stage of the game. Although he had a history of neglecting assignments in high school, he doesn't want to fail and we've talked on several occasions about the importance of applying himself in his upper-level college courses.

"If you've done the best you can, there's no point in berating yourself over it," I said. "Sometimes we can't foresee the difficulty of a class for us until it's too late."

A business major myself as a young college student, I went on to tell Payton my struggle in Accounting at the undergraduate level. I hated the subject and couldn't grasp the concepts. But it was required to advance in my major and after making a "D" the first semester, I was forced to take the class again.

Payton was broken over his inability to pass the class. I immediately sensed his need for grace as he talked to me. There was no need for consequences as I knew the natural consequences of his actions would be enough.

In my early years of stepparenting, I didn't offer grace freely enough to my stepchildren. When they did wrong, it was easier to harbor anger and build up resentment toward them. Forgiveness and grace didn't flow easily.

But I've learned that the person who suffers the most from that unforgiving spirit is me. My stepchildren don't see the bitter feelings I'm carrying around or sense its strangling hold on my spirit. They only see the fallout of my feelings through angry words or inappropriate behavior.

I love the acronym that illustrates God's grace for us: God's Riches at Christ's Expense. As we celebrated Easter this past Sunday, I was reminded of God's sacrifice for us. His grace is more than we can ever comprehend. And although we'll never be asked to illustrate that kind of grace, we are given the opportunity to offer grace every day to those living around us - our imperfect stepchildren who need it more than we realize.

How can you illustrate grace today?

Related Posts:

Healthy Stepparenting: Don't Keep Score

Finding the Beauty of God's Grace in Your Stepfamily

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Coping with Stepfamily Storms

Last night we braved severe storms with damaging tornadoes in Central Arkansas. My kids and I retreated to our "fraidy hole" to seek protection from our frightful surroundings. The paper this morning reports a nearby town "wiped out."

As I listened to the blare of tornado sirens and attempted to comfort my tearful 10-year-old son, I reflected on what options we have during storms. I compared weather storms to emotional storms that oftentimes occur in stepfamilies. I thought about ways we can cope during stepfamily storms that allow a healthy outcome without a lot of damage. Here are a few steps to consider:

1. Stay calm - don't overreact. During times of conflict, it's easy to raise your voice and exaggerate the severity of the situation. When emotions are heightened, solutions don't emerge naturally. It may be necessary to take a time out and leave the scene of the conflict. However, be sure you agree to come back later to discuss it.

2. Pray for wisdom and guidance for the situation. Find a time and place to be still and listen for God's direction. James 1:5 tells us: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

3. Brainstorm and talk through your options with another person. Seek out an objective party who can help you sort through your emotions and solutions for the conflict. Find a pastor, counselor, or friend who has your best interest at heart and can offer a healthy opinion.

4. Wait it out. Many times, storms dissipate with time. Don't jump to conclusions or insist on taking steps that might make matters worse. When my stepson chose to continue living with his stepdad after his mom died, we were devastated. My husband could have demanded that he come live with us right after the funeral, but he believed it would alienate his adolescent son and cause further pain. We waited out his decision, tormented with some of his choices over the next year. Finally my stepson called and asked to come live with us, recognizing the dysfunction of the home he was in.

5. Take one step at a time when the conditions are right. As solutions emerge, move slowly toward resolution. Take the next healthy step toward reconciling with those involved. Don't expect harmony overnight but do your part to mend relationships.

6. Maintain a positive attitude and trust God for the results. We may not see an end to our storm, but we can trust God is in control. We may not understand what's happening around us but we can choose to "Let Go and Let God."

Storms are frightening and devastating at times. We won't always react as we should or take the right steps, but if we refuse to give up on our stepfamily relationships, we will find solutions in our storms.

What steps do you take during stepfamily storms?

Related Posts:

Confront Conflict Head-On

How to Handle Difficult People

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Friday, April 22, 2011

No Greater Love Than This

Jesus was arrested around 1:30 a.m. on Friday and less than 14 hours later was crucified. He was tried in three different courts, flogged, and sentenced by Pilate.

 He was abandoned by all except a few loyal followers. He was stripped of his clothes and walked the 650 yards to Golgotha - the place of the skull - to be crucified on a cross.

 But Christ shows His uncommon goodness as Luke 23:34 records His words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Satan was defeated by Christ's work on the cross. We can experience victory over our sin and eternal life with God the Father as we accept His gift of life.

Christ died so we can live. Romans 6:23 tells us, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thankfully, the story of the cross doesn't end there. Christ was resurrected from the dead three days later, fulfilling the prophecy from the beginning. His empty tomb was found by his followers, whom he spent 40 days with on earth before his return to heaven.

Christ's goodness, as reflected on the Cross, is more than any of us can offer. But what a great reminder it is for us to continually work toward showing greater goodness toward those around us.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Appreciate the Positives of Your Stepchildren

My stepson came by over the week-end to help with the yard and clean the gutters for me. Since my husband is now working out of state, he asked his son to help with stuff around the house that he normally does.

It was a blessing to have him here and offer a helping hand.

But my stepson and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of issues. At 21-years-old, he has his own opinions and many of them are different from mine.

He was heavily influenced during his critical adolescent years at his mom's house by a stepdad that walks a different path in life. My stepson experimented with drugs and had the freedom to make his own choices at an age when he didn't have the maturity to make wise ones.

I'm thankful today he's making better choices but it saddens me that he doesn't desire a spiritual walk. It's more convenient to live a life of selfish desires than surrender his life to the Lord Jesus, whom I love and serve.

But rather than force my spiritual beliefs down his throat, I simply love and accept him where he is today. 

My prayer is that my stepson will someday embrace the spiritual journey that makes my life complete. But I can love him for who he is today, even if it's vastly different from me.

I can be thankful for the relationship we share, even if it's not perfect. I can appreciate his willingness to offer a helping hand when my husband isn't available.

What positive thought can you embrace about your stepchildren?

Related Posts:

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Overcoming Difficult Feelings as a Stepparent


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Friday, April 15, 2011

It's Always Too Early to Quit

I learned of another stepmom this week who called it quits on her family. Married less than a year, the challenges of blending her kids with her husband's were too much. She chose to return to the single parenting life instead of plodding through the wilderness until the light of hope appeared.

It burdens me to hear of step-couples who give up in the early years of marriage. I believe God's perfect plan for marriage is that one man and one woman marry and raise their children together. When we choose a different path (divorce, children out of wedlock, re-marriage with stepchildren, etc.), marriage gets harder.

That doesn't mean God won't bless our blended family relationships, but it does mean we have to give more than 100% to make it work.

When we quit, our children lose. Children can't learn what a healthy marriage looks like in a single parenting home. Children don't learn how to manage conflict when we run away from it. Children won't learn what perseverance feels like if we quit.

A friend in my Bible Study Fellowship group told me her husband accepted the Lord this past week and will be baptized on Easter Sunday. She could barely contain her excitement. For 37 years of marriage, she'd prayed for him to become a Christian. She admitted there were times she wanted to give up. But instead she's blessed with a miracle after almost four decades.

It's always too early to quit. God can heal relationships that appear irrepairable. He can offer hope when it looks hopeless. But we have to give Him the opportunity, and trust His time frame when it looks different than ours.

"For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11).

Will you look to the Lord for hope on days you want to quit?

Related Posts:

Finding Hope in the Midst of Uncertainty

Good News for Stepfamilies

Everything Happens for a Reason

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is it a Privilege to be a Stepparent?

I'll never forget the counselor's words when I cried out for help in the early years of our marriage, "I know it's difficult at times, but you might consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to be part of raising your stepchildren."

What? Is he crazy? My thoughts took over and I couldn't respond for fear of what might come out of my mouth. Was he listening to my heart-felt anguish?

Parenting stepchildren can feel more like a burden than a privilege at times. We have the responsibility of a parent with few parental rights. Fold the laundry. Cook dinner. Run the carpool. Yet, despite our efforts toward mundane parenting tasks, we get little regard or appreciation for our help.

I read a story recently in The Smart Stepmomby Ron Deal and Laura Petherbridge, that encouraged me to recognize the privilege we have as stepparents. I pray it does the same for you:

Lynn's story:

"Lynn and her husband combined six children - ages three, four, five, six, eight, and ten - who lived with them full time because her ex-husband was an alcoholic and his ex-wife abandoned her children She faced typical challenges when her stepchildren minimized her authority (You're not our mom!") and remained loyal to a biological mother they didn't know.

When her stepchildren reached adolescence, their mother reappeared and instantly turned them further against Lynn. Despite the fact that the biological mom had been absent for many years, she still had the power to tear apart everything Lynn had built with her stepkids. Disrespect and conflict became a daily occurrenc in Lynn's home, and her husband didn't handle his children well. Their marriage was in turmoil to the point that Lynn wanted a divorce. But she didn't file.

The dream of growing old together kept her from leaving and eventually produced fruit she never imagined.

When her second-oldest stepson was about to enter the Iraq War, he used his allotted two hours of phone time not to call his biological mother or father, but his stepmother, Lynn. He apologized to her for his prior behavior and thanked her for offering discipline and guidance throughout his life. He especially thanked her for raising him to know the Lord. 'After that call,' she says, I knew that every minute of being a stepmom was worth it.'"

When we're in the throes of stepparenting challenges, it's hard to see the privilege we've been given. But if we focus on the opportunity of influence we've been given with our stepchildren, we get a glimpse of the difference we can make. 

Can you recognize the important role you play as a stepparent?

Related Posts:

Positive Thinking Contributes to Successful Stepparenting

Struggling with Emotions

Steps for Successful Stepparenting

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Overcoming the Pain of Rejection

Tears began falling down my cheeks the moment the realtor left our house. I wasn't prepared for her insensitive comments about the home our family had enjoyed for eleven years. "It won't sell with wallpaper on the walls. I prefer only neutral colors in all rooms. Your family pictures must come down. The price will be discounted since the master bedroom is upstairs. The light fixtures are dated and must be changed out. You should consider moving your furniture around in some of these rooms."

Geeeez. I knew our home wasn't perfect but we shared a lot of love and laughter there, making it a special place for our family. Life with a bunch of kids didn't allow for the time, energy, and money necessary to keep a home perfectly updated. But we were happy in our family-oriented, slightly-dated home.

So why was my spirit deflated? Rejection. The feeling was all too familiar. I had felt it many times as a stepparent. And now I was feeling it from a realtor. All she could see were the negative aspects that would keep our home from selling. She didn't consider the sprawling front porch, the well-established neigborhood with beautiful trees, or the central location to anywhere in town. She rejected any notion of positive features of our home.

Have you felt that before as a stepparent? Your stepchildren don't recognize the meals you cook for them every night, the laundry that gets washed every week, or the endless carpool trips to school, ballgames, and friend's houses. Instead they focus on the evening you lost your temper after a long day at work, the extra kids that came when you married their dad, or the uncomforable feeling that's created when they begin to care about you like they do their biological parent. It's easier to reject you than deal with the inner turmoil of accepting you into their life.

So, how do we deal with rejection as a stepparent? How do I come to terms with the rejection I felt from the realtor? Here are a few things I've done to help cope:

1. Focus on what I can change, and let go of everything else. I can't change the fact that our master bedroom is upstairs, but I can hire someone to strip the wallpaper and put on a fresh coat of paint. As a stepparent, you can't change the circumstances if you brought children of your own into your marriage. But you can work hard to love your stepchildren with Christ's love and accept them for who they are.

2. Recognize that my identity lies in Christ, not in whether my stepchildren love and accept me or whether the realtor approves of my house. Affirm my positive qualities in the midst of criticism. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Eph 3:18).

3. Unite with my spouse to overcome feelings of rejection from my stepchildren or hurtful comments sent my way. Find solace in a loving, comforting relationship that can only be shared with a mate.

Other ideas? How do you cope with rejection?

Can you look past the pain of rejection and see the beautiful person God created in you?

Related Posts:

Learning to Cope with Rejection

The Sting of Angry Words

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Grasping the Value of Boundaries as a Stepparent

As I was listening to my friend complain about the disrespectful behavior from her stepson, I couldn't help but think, "Why haven't you established some boundaries that would allow you to take care of yourself instead of putting up with his self-centered behavior?"

We can require respect from our stepchildren, even if they don't like us. Our actions or inactions teach others how to treat us. It helps to team up with our spouse and set some ground rules (i.e. yelling is not allowed, even when you're angry), and then follow through with consequences if they're not followed.

It isn't our role as stepparents to be walked on, taken advantage of, or neglected. We have needs and wants also, and it's okay to express our needs and learn how to take care of ourselves.

For example, I learned many years ago that I don't deal well with chaos. It makes me nervous to spend a lot of time in an environment that is loud or uncontrolled. Since my husband and I have five children, I can't completely avoid those situations.

However, I've learned that if I take a time-out for myself when we have large groups of kids at the house and let my husband be in charge for awhile, I can regroup and come back to the interaction refreshed. I want our kids to be comfortable having their friends over, so I've learned how to cope with my limitations.

I've also learned that I have less patience with my stepson and his ideas of post-college life than I do my stepdaughter's quest for mature decision-making about her future. So, I've learned that my husband can guide my stepson better without the judgment and lack of understanding I experience. It's more natural for me to spend my emotional energy influencing my stepdaughter regarding her long-term relationship or my biological girls with their current struggles.

As stepparents, we make constant sacrifices for our stepchildren and may see few rewards, particularly in the beginning. If we give up too much of ourselves in order to meet the constant needs of others, we will wind up frustrated or resentful. It's our responsibility as stepparents to determine what we must do to take care of ourselves adequately.

I like the way Sue Thoele discusses boundaries in The Courage to be a Stepmom:. "With practice and commitment, taking care of ourselves and setting self-nurturing limits can become second nature. Cultivating the ability to say "no" to unreasonable responsibilities and expectations makes it easier for us to say "yes" to love and laughter."

Do you need to practice saying "no" this week?

Related Posts:

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part One

The Power of Boundaries as a Stepparent: Part Two

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