A post by Hope
I saw this really cool sign one time at a store that said “All love stories are beautiful, but ours is my favorite.” It’s true for me. I love how my love story began. Today marks the beginning of the love story between me and my three step-sons. Five years ago today, I met them for the first time. It was unexpected and impromptu, of course. Following careful planning about how we’d orchestrate this moment, Dave and I ended up throwing caution to the wind and I met them a week earlier than planned. God knew that the day that we had planned the following weekend would be forever etched into time due to an emergency. So, a lazy Sunday afternoon in October, I headed North and shook hands with 10 year old Julian, 7 year old Isaac and 4 year old Nathan (who took off running in the opposite direction instead of shaking my hand). I didn’t flinch. He was beside me in the wagon a few hours later.
When the day came, I was so excited and it felt natural. What didn’t feel natural was what my life looked like after the wedding was over and the boxes were unpacked in our new rental home. When the dust settled, the blending began and the impact of my decision to jump off the cliff hand in hand with my love hit me. This wasn’t going to be as easy as falling in love. The book The Smart Stepfamily by Ron Deal was as important to our marriage as the Bible in the beginning. It gave us a guide to gauge how we were navigating the emotions, the decisions and the development as we became a family. According to blended family experts, the process of becoming a family unit usually takes between 5-7 years. It varies greatly depending on circumstances. In my opinion, it feels like it’s going to take a lifetime! We were told “it’s all normal” but nothing about selflessness feels normal. I wanted to fight for my rights and feel sorry for myself and all my sacrifice when I hit a wall of conflict or confusion. I still battle that sometimes. But grace. Somehow, today we’ve arrived at five years. One day at a time and one big decision to stay. Multiple hurt feelings, countless tears and a few sleepless nights have brought us to this milestone. I’d love to talk about my husband and what a hero he has been, but instead, today, I want to celebrate those three little boys. They aren’t so little anymore. Can I talk to you about them?
I’d love to tell you that when I fell for Dave, that I fell for his sons at the same rate and time, but that’s not the truth. I didn’t. I couldn’t. After living through infertility, I was already cautious about giving my heart to someone else’s children. They were cautious about this new woman beside daddy in the place that their mom once lived. All four of us approached with understandable caution. But one shared experience at a time, we began to trust. I cried a lot, talked a lot and “sucked it up” a lot and little by little I began to mature and navigate what it means to have kids in your life. As I continued to show up to every ball game, make desserts, watch for ways to connect and ask questions about them, they sensed my authenticity. They realized that I really did want to come closer. As they began to trust me, I learned to trust them and thus began a beautiful dance of blending hearts and lives. Not every day is a win but not every day is loss either. The reality is that there are a lot of awkward moments. On both sides. We come to a challenge and watch how the other reacts and go from there. There’s a push and a pull and sometimes there’s silence. I have to watch my heart and intent and they watch their mouth. We seem to offer respect to each other and so far have responded to these situations with a great deal of patience. Time has proven that the waves of disappointment, selfishness and conflict pass without breaking us. I never ask more from their hearts than they are willing to freely give and always land on the fact that I am the adult and must protect them as such. My adult feelings and reactions are coming from a much older and experienced perspective so my words and expression must be tempered with the reality that I could damage all that’s been built in a single slip of judgement.
When you love someone, you want to help them live their best life. When that person is a child, that desire to help gets magnified. (Well, that is if you are a healthy adult.) So naturally it can be difficult to keep your opinions and suggestions to yourself when you think parents should be stepping in (or out) of a circumstance. When you are a non-parent, you learn very quickly that biological parents do not respond well to this. Parenting is as intimate as it gets for folks. You can step on their politics, you can step on their social media, you can even step on their religious toes, but don’t you dare question the way they parent. You will reap the whirlwind if approaching this space without proper care. This doesn’t just apply to blended families, it works this way within a biological family structure. You just try to tell your sister that she “caudles” her son too much….go ahead, I dare you. So what can the observant one do? They can pray, speak life into the child when possible and can live love toward the broken ones. In the meantime, don’t run the risk of destroying relationships by trying to help. Sometimes the best way to respond to this kind of tension is with silence.
The three boys that I get to live with every other week are amazing. Their hearts are pure gold. All three of them. Seriously. They are obedient, they are helpful and they are spunky. They make me laugh, they help me, they accept me and they melt my heart like wax when they tell me they love me. Every single time they say it. I treasure the different ways they tell me. Each of them say it differently. Julian tells me he loves me with a punch in the arm or in the respectful way he speaks to me. He tells me he loves me in the way he engages conversation with me about his life. He says it with a look. Isaac tells me every hello and every goodbye. He tells me with a smile and hug in the kitchen and right before bed with a kiss. Nathan tells me with a barrage of Nerf bullets and a giggle after a photo bomb on my phone. Nathan tells me in the most unexpected moments by phone or text. He gives love the least obvious so I have to look close sometimes, but he’s always genuine when it comes.
To say that I am pleased would be an understatement. I’m thrilled with how we’ve worked through the difficult times. They continue to give and I do too. I understand now that this is a calling and I am to stand my post and pray over them. To cover them as they walk in their generation and culture as men of God. That’s it. I don’t get much of a microphone for big life decisions or direction in their life. My role doesn’t come with loyalty nor does it guarantee acknowledgement or appreciation. Dave turns to me for my input and opinion in most every situation and he says that it has made a difference. Each time my attitude or perspective has outgrown the appropriate boundaries for my role, I crash and burn and have to turn to God and others to recalibrate. Giving more than getting never feels good, but these three guys didn’t ask for this family model so I must be a physical example of a spiritual truth. God works all things together for good according to HIS purpose. I love that God, in His sovereignty, saw fit to cause my path to merge with Julian, Isaac and Nathan’s. They are making me a better woman. They are giving me the opportunity to experience more of God. They are showing me what it means to trust and what it means to learn. Today I celebrate my three young men. Hopefully one day they will understand what they have brought to my broken heart and how very much I love them. Because I get to.