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.

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