Monday, January 31, 2011

Love Grows Up

When I started this blog, I intended to fill it with posts about the daily struggles of my large blended family.  I thought I would share the things that go on inside the walls of my home, and others would be encouraged and know that they were not alone in their struggle to be a great (or even just a good) stepmom.  It did not take long for me to realize that I didn't really love the idea of sharing so openly about my home life, because in order to be honest, I would have to expose myself as the failure I so often feel like at the end of the day.  Without fail, whenever I meet someone new, and they find out that Michael and I share 7 children, they ask "How do you do it?" I never have an answer for that other than "Not very well..." 

Starting out, I just knew I would be so great at this. After all, I was in love with my husband, and in love with everything he loved.  That warm fuzzy feeling spilled over onto everybody, even Skip, the dog (this is extraordinary, because I am NOT a dog person).  But, anyone who has ever been married knows that once real life begins, that warm fuzzy feeling can quickly turn into panic! "What have I done?? Who are these people I live with?? Why is this dog so annoying?" I am joking, of course, it wasn't quite so dramatic, but my point is this:  Feelings don't last. Good feelings fade, bad feelings ease, they just aren't predictable or reliable motivators for real love.  So what happens next? I don't like the phrase "falling out of love".  Love is a choice.  When the initial rush of emotion subsides, that is when love becomes real. It grows up. 

I am not qualified to give advice on any subject. I have failed at so many things that my only claim to expertise is in what NOT to do.  That I can willingly share in good conscience!  So if you are reading this hoping to be inspired, I fear that you will leave disappointed.  If you are reading to be warned, amused, or to feel better about yourself, then maybe your time here will be well spent.  Either way, here are some observations I have made about being a stepmom:

I cannot love my step children the same way I love my own.  Shocking admission, I know, but it is true.  I did not give birth to them, hold them close as babies, kiss their booboos or change their diapers.  I entered their life at a difficult time, and they do not "feel" love toward me, either. I represent to them all the things that turned their lives upside down, and though they are respectful and sweet, they will never feel "warm and fuzzy" toward me. I have learned something very important. That it's ok! Emotions that I can neither control nor manufacture are no match for a CHOICE that I make to show them love by my actions toward them and by the way I treat their father. Do I fail at this? Absolutely. Nearly every day I do or say something to someone that is unloving or insensitive, but I am trying and learning, and I know that with God's help they will reap the benefits of this grown up kind of love. Love that is all about investing in the lives of each member of my family, and about being Christlike in my home. About renewing my commitment to God and to them each and everyday, and letting His love flow through me. 

I am getting really good at apologizing.  Pride has always been an issue for me. I hate to be wrong, and even more I hate admitting when I am wrong.  Selfish love insists on its own way, and refuses to ask forgiveness for offenses. Grown up love sees that when one has been offended, a soft word, a humble apology and a gentle spirit can ease the hurt, and stop the root of bitterness before it sprouts.  I probably get more practice at this in my marriage than with the kids.  I find myself apologizing for rashly spoken words and for being overly defensive on a more regular basis than I care to admit.  The last time this occured, I jokingly said to my husband, "At least I'm getting better at apologizing?" To which he said with a little smile, "I think you may be working on the wrong part."  With the kids, I have found that they always respond positively to a heartfelt "I'm sorry.  I was too harsh. I should not have used that tone of voice." And I sincerely believe that they will learn to be better at saying "I'm sorry" if we are willing to humbly show them how by our example! It gets easier with practice, this I know all too well!

"Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:8) I don't think this refers to the warm, fuzzy, selfish kind of love. This is the hard stuff.  Saying "I'm sorry".  Putting the needs of my family ahead of my own.  Serving them in love.  Taking time to be with my heavenly Father so that He can show me what that looks like.  Investing in my spirit and in the spiritual lives of his, mine, and ours. And trusting that He will provide the grace, wisdom and strength that I do not possess to meet the challenges of each new day.  I love the way The Message paraphrases 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  I will leave you with these words about "grown up love" with prayers for all who read to be encouraged and challenged.

   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
   Love doesn't strut,
   Doesn't have a swelled head,
   Doesn't force itself on others,
   Isn't always "me first,"
   Doesn't fly off the handle,
   Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn't revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Confessions of a Clutter Queen

I have never been a good housekeeper.  My mother would also readily admit that she is not exactly gifted in this area, so I have always (rather conveniently) blamed her for my lack of skill in the domestic department.  When I married Michael last year, I became the highly unqualified manager of a rather large household, including 2 adults, 1 teenager, a middle-schooler, 3 little boys, 2 babies and a dog.  My sweet husband is a detail oriented, task managing kind of guy, and I am so thankful. He can walk in, bark a few orders, and have everybody hopping to get things done.  I, on the other hand, am a typically laid-back, happy-to-put-it-off-til-tomorrow kind of gal.  But I am the one home all day with the job of "getting things done", and he is working hard, making a living and providing all the things we need. It isn't fair to expect him to do both our jobs, even if he is better at it than me.  And so begins my current journey... One that will hopefully lead to better habits, an orderly and peaceful home, and a happy, healthy family life!

On Monday of last week, after having the kids snowed in at home for several days, I was truly at the end of my rope.  The house was a disaster, Michael and I were both tense, and I was feeling really hopeless and overwhelmed. I kept thinking, "I can't do this.  It's too hard.  I'm not good at this." Those thoughts led to some all-too-familiar dark thoughts, "I'm a terrible wife. I'm a failure as a mom. I'll never be good at this." Well, needless to say, I was in tears. And feeling pretty stupid for crying over a messy house.  I was not about to say to my very logical husband "I am crying because the house is a wreck." Because he would very logically think, "Then why are you sitting on the couch crying? Get up and do something about it." (He is kind enough not to voice such thoughts, but like all women, I believe I can read his mind.) So, it was in this pitiful state of mind that I cried out to God, saying, "You know I can't do this by myself. Please help me." And here is what happened...

As I lay in bed that night, thinking through the schedule for Tuesday, I suddenly remembered that the topic for our women's group (Women of Wisdom) was home organization.  Now you might think that I recognized this as an answer to my earlier prayer, but I was still feeling sorry for myself, so I began dreading sitting through a lesson that was only going to point out all of my failings and make me feel even worse. Everyone knows that the women who lead these sorts of discussions are organization queens, right? Why else would they be asked to speak on the topic?  But I set my alarm anyway, got us up and out the door, leaving my dirty dishes and laundry for later.

I was glad I went the minute I walked through the door, seeing friends and smiling faces, and I began to relax.  Karen Burke was the speaker for that morning, and I love to hear her teach on anything.  So I got out my pen to take notes.  She began with a part of her testimony that I had not heard before. She told us (gasp) that for over 20 years her home was in total clutter chaos! She talked about the effects it had on her marriage and her relationship with the Lord.  She said something that I will never forget. "It is a heart issue." I won't list all the tips, because frankly, the details of how to do it were irrelevant at that moment. What was happening in my heart as I listened to her was the answer to my prayer from the night before, and believe it or not, I actually realized it!  I probably looked a little silly with tears in my eyes, but all I could think of was how much God loves us. To lovingly tend to even the daily struggles that we have that rob us of peace, and to place people in our path who can help us along the way.  All I did was throw my hands up in frustration and ASK for help.  And He provided it.

I am slowly getting a handle on the mess around here, and the biggest difference from before is my attitude. I am now eager to start on my "to-do list" every morning, not only because I want to please God, but also because I want to please my husband and make a haven for our busy family. The immediate reward is a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day, and sensing the calm that is descending on our home life as a result of things being in their place and easy to find.  The long term rewards remain to be seen, but I feel confident they will be worth the commitment I have made to change in this area. 

My favorite practical resource is, and I am using this website daily. I want to include some verses that I am working on memorizing throughout this journey, because that is the key to unlocking the power of Christ in any pursuit, even the mundane jobs that we moms do every single day!

1 Corinthians 14:33  "God is not a god of disorder, but of peace."

Psalm 90:12  "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

Isaiah 26:3  "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you."