Posted in Faith, Family

Choices (part 1)

Our pastor made an interesting statement in a sermon last week that my mind has replayed, so I’m going to share it today.  At Church of the Open Door in Elyria, we’re in a sermon series about “Arrested Development” which basically is awakening ourselves to when our spiritual life is at a halt, and then doing something about it.

Pastor Jim’s statement was, “We are where we are today because of the choices we’ve made…”

Maybe you’ve heard someone make that claim before, or have even said it yourself.  It’s acceptance of reality, at this point in time.  In any self-analysis, we are evaluating ourselves completely naked (and Christ-followers are called to do it quite often).  And though it almost seems redundant or obvious to say that we are who we are because of what we’ve done or chosen to do, it is a fact that we ARE a product of our choices.

Figurative forks in the road are common (if you see literal forks, I’d love an SMS text of said event).  Choices occur daily, whether it’s standing in the closet determining what sweater will keep you the warmest today, standing in the line at a coffee shop debating between a chai latte or a cafe mocha, or driving to work and questioning whether to take a shortcut since traffic is at a slow crawl.

We make choices by the minute, and though the statement itself doesn’t seem to draw any dramatic conclusion, let’s walk through a self-evaluation I did recently.

Five years ago, I was bartending as a result of a layoff and working days/nights/whenever-I-could to get cash to pay bills.  My divorce wasn’t yet finalized, but my ex-husband and myself were living in two separate locations.  I was torn between two worlds.  I was praying about where to attend church because I missed the stability that had brought my life in the past, yet also drinking so heavily that I would pass out almost every night. I was a real mess and to be honest, my choices were based on the moment.  I was selfish and solely focused on Grace (my actual first name), not the grace of God that I so desperately needed.

Fast forward to NOW.  Present day, I’m newly married, have two amazing stepdaughters, two supportive families, loving and hilarious friends and a husband who is a gift!  He truly balances who I am.

I am now attending church regularly and feeding on the Word of God during the week without prompting.  I am aware of my sin, my need for grace and forgiveness, and write when the ideas come.  I am a student who in four years will have the skills to counsel others, with more knowledge than God has already given me.  Things have definitely rebounded.  But how did I get here?

Simply?  My response was surrender.  I chose to give up.  Five years ago, I was focused on myself and getting by.  I now know that I have obligations to myself, my Lord, my husband and my family.  Jesus has transformed my priorities.  And it’s a daily process of shredding my flesh and walking in the Spirit.  I still CHOOSE to give up.

I surrender daily to God to show a surrendered life, and to represent Christ to a hurting world.  I can’t do that if I’m drinking myself into oblivion, or disregarding my sin.  Where I used to drive straight to the bar to meet up with my “chosen family”, I now patiently sit in the Avon High School parking lot to pick up my stepdaughter.  Just seeing her emerge from the building brings me more joy than a cold beer ever did after a long work day.  And don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian, who like Donald Miller, still loves a cold beer, but my focus has shifted.

No longer is my life about drowning in sadness and self-pity.  It’s now serving others, because by doing so, my heart begins to overflow.

One of my greatest achievements is becoming a stepmom.  When I was younger, I chose to marry someone to have a family with them.  That didn’t work out, and it wasn’t for lack of trying.  We weren’t compatible and certainly chose to look past the warning signs (another choice that led to where I am now).

In marrying my current husband, I’ve acquired two teenage daughters.  He and I talked at length about having a family of our own, and decided we are content with our life where we’re at (another choice).  In time, when the girls are older, we’d like to serve in missions (another choice) and having a child at this point will change that dream.  Unless God has other plans, we’re fine with helping the girls decide on their future (yet another choice…see the pattern?) and then we’ll see where God moves us.

My greatest joy is helping to shape these young womens’ lives.  It’s a high calling.  Because of Kevin’s life choice, we (the girls and I) are now a part of each others’ lives.  I know when my husband asked me to marry him, there was no hesitation on my end.  I knew this guy was the top of the line and I felt peace in just being in his presence!

But accepting a marriage proposal from someone who already has an established family can be scary at first.  In the past, I never saw myself loving someone else’s kids.  I’ve heard before that, “No young woman ever wakes up and says, ‘When I grow up, I want to be a stepmom’.”  And truly, that had never been a consideration of mine until I was divorced and actively dating.  I didn’t know of anyone who was happy in their step-situation.  I had heard horror stories from friends who had divorced parents, and never gave much thought to the heartache and anxiety that divorce produces.  If anything, when I said yes to Kevin, I thought I had signed up for heartache for the rest of my life.  But that hasn’t been the case, a relief to all sides!  I chose to commit to the girls too.

The reality is that I didn’t give birth to them.  I didn’t change their diapers or dress them, teach them how to eat/drink/talk/write, etc.  But I have influence in their lives now.  That is a choice I am most proud of.  Of course, I could decide to be selfish and live for myself…after all, they’re not my blood children.  But I simply can’t live like that.  Because of my marriage and my commitment to God and my husband, they ARE my children.  I have just as much of a commitment to them, as I do their father.  I have acquired them by marriage, but will never abandon them.  They ARE my life now.

Children, no matter what age, watch and absorb everything.  They read body language, listen to conversations in the household, can sense emotions spoken and non-spoken, and internalize what they feel.  I’m aware of the girls’ hurt and pray constantly and am actively seeking to stay in their world because I don’t ever want to cause pain for them that is in excess of what they’re already dealing with.  They’re amazing young women with many gifts/skills/abilities.  They teach me daily, and I love that they incorporate me into what they like to listen to and what they’re learning.  Their perspectives are so unique, yet beautiful.

The choice to remarry was a huge one, as well as to marry someone with children.  There is an ex-wife still present and I had to accept that this woman will be in my life for the rest of my life.  I had to accept that this was already an existing family and I could be rejected.  And for a time, I was/am.

But God has been working in the intimate small moments of our lives, and slowly turning hearts toward Him.  The reactions and changes have been dramatic, yet heartwarming.  And they’re worth it.  The step in faith, was a choice, for love, for the future, for surrendering to God to see what He could do in my life.  And I’m pretty amazed when I step back and analyze where I’ve come from.  I’m blessed….simply blessed because of my decision for Christ.

Things aren’t always rosy, but as a family, we definitely pull through the storms, respect and understand each other, and love shoots up and grows where thorns had once laid claim.

We are where we are today because of the choices we’ve made.  And I’m grateful!!

Posted in Faith, Family, Stepfamily

Being a stepmother

One of my favorite authors, Jane Green, posted a question on her facebook page not too long ago, asking her readers to share their experiences as someone in a blended stepfamily.  Being newly married, I had to share my two cents.  Below is my response.  And I’m proud of every word.  I still need prayer daily, as it is not always easy, but I love my new life!

In the midst of beauty

“Truthfully being a stepmother for me, is a joy. The two young women that God has blessed me with, through the marriage to my husband, gives us three hilarious nights of laughter and love-the nights we have them over, in addition to our fun alone nights. That’s not to say there aren’t days where there are disagreements and heartache. There are many difficult situations with his ex-wife and miscommunications happen, but I’m willing to learn through the pain because I love my husband and my stepdaughters immensely.

I have accepted the idea that if I can be a good example in my words and behavior, that I will teach them much, and that through my lack of selfishness, they’ll become stronger women who can make good choices. I know my rewards may be small now, but I’m looking forward to the long-term payoff in their character. I also know that because I choose to spend time learning about them and listening to them when they’re in our home, that I’ll have a great relationship with them as they get older, which makes me love them even more.

I talk to God and my husband frequently about the heartache, and I pray about how to best represent Christ. I also am completely myself when they’re over, which is goofy and non-traditional, and that has allowed the girls to let their guard down. I accept that it’s a constant process, but something I ultimately agree with, is Ron Deal’s explanation that blended families are like Crockpots, slowly blending ingredients, and it’s something you don’t want to rush. Be genuine, love the kids, and love your spouse. Put God first and seek Him in all things, and there can be hope for stepfamilies. :)”

Posted in Faith

Taking chances

Five years ago today was a sunny, cool Saturday in North Olmsted, Ohio.  I was twenty-six years old and scared, yet excited.  Around ten in the morning, I was standing in the living room of the house that my husband and I had bought two years earlier, and was starting to move boxes into cars and trucks of family members and friends.  All of my belongings had been stacked into the corner of the room for quick and easy loading.  I was moving into my new apartment down the street.  My husband knew that I was leaving him, so he went into work that day.  He was still in shock that I had signed a lease to move out.  I knew he didn’t hate me, but he wasn’t supporting my decision.  It meant we would have to admit we truly had marital problems.  So, at my insistence, we were going to attempt a separation.  To me, it was the Christian solution to an unhealthy marriage, to see if we could salvage any part of our seven year relationship.

After sipping some coffee to get started, my mother, sister and brother-in-law helped me load up their vehicles.  Two really good friends grabbed furniture and loaded a pickup truck.  We worked tirelessly until every piece of furniture was in the apartment, and then everyone left me to unpack.  Within four hours, everything I owned was in my new apartment and I was free from my husband.  That last sentence might sound puzzling to some, but to me, it is justified.

The feelings I had in that initial first moment alone were incredible.  I was frightened, fearful and doubtful.  Had I made the right choice?  I was also excited because I knew some friends were taking me out that evening to celebrate my new step, but I was also feeling sorry for my husband.  He would return home to an empty home and hardly any furniture.  It would be a new step for him too.

My now ex-husband and I had many differences and we had allowed alcohol and distrust to separate something that quite possibly could have been something of value.  He was controlling and manipulative.  He was insecure in his own skin and overbearing.  And the worst part was that he didn’t see it, nor did he want to address it.  I too, had a laundry list of sins that I was working through and some that I was also not addressing, and it was just a toxic environment.  Something had to give.

I had to leave to grow. 

I felt sheltered and stepped on.  I was insecure as a result, and completely empty.  I believed in God and knew that He loved me, but I wasn’t living a noble life, nor was I proud of the shell I had become.  Leaving my husband to seek some peace was my first step at doing something out of the ordinary and I was hoping to have a resolution with my then husband.  I figured time apart would heal wounds, create love where there wasn’t any, and maybe God could fix us.

In the weeks that followed, my husband would call me to tell me that he was so alone, that he couldn’t go on without me, that it was hard to live…and for a while, I believed him.  Three weeks after I had moved out, he invited me out to have a drink with him (it was his 32nd birthday) and we talked.  He was still remorseful for his controlling behavior, for his lack of knowing how to love me, and for his lack of trusting in God.  My biggest complaint was his need to get affirmation from his coworkers who had drinking problems.  He chose them over me, and broke our covenant.  I was forgiving, but also run down from the mental and verbal abuse over the years.  His words meant nothing to me at this point.  I told him that I wasn’t seeing anyone, that I was still faithful, and that I was hopeful that our year apart would be fruitful and not without some merit.

I had just been let go from a job due to lack of work for me, and was waiting for unemployment to kick in.  I didn’t ask for money from him, even though he was still financially liable for me.  I sat next to him at the bar watching his mouth move, but inside I felt so sorry for this person I once thought would be the father of children I was certain the Lord would bless us with.  As he played his game of trying to woo me back to the house so that we could “kiss and make up”, I remember feeling a strength inside of me that I didn’t know I had, and for the first time, I stood up before he did, said, “No thanks” and just left.  It was his birthday and I’m sure he felt I owed him something, but I was beginning to change internally.  God was working in me, and even though I wasn’t constantly aware of His presence, I knew that I was spiritually protected.  Walking down the stairs of that bar leaving him with his mouth open was priceless.

Two weeks later when I thought we were going to meet to go over the separation paperwork, he invited me to the same bar to talk (I probably should’ve been skeptical at that point) and as I entered the establishment, there was a blond girl sitting extremely close to him, with her hand on his mid-thigh.  I was taken aback and was caught completely off guard.  I sat down next to his friend and ordered my beer.  It was awkward to say the least.  These two guys had gotten off work, met up with a woman who was comfortable enough with my husband to stroke his thigh and I was obviously the soon-to-be-ex-wife.   I was the outcast.  Why was I sitting there with them at all??

Then a light went on for me.  This was his way of showing me that he could move on.  I realized we would not be speaking about lawyers or separation terms at all.  I proceeded to drink beers (many of them) and do shots with the bartender.  I said some things I didn’t need to, but it didn’t matter.  My husband and this woman got up to leave, and so did his friend.  I could hardly see straight I was so angry.  I kept drinking while they left.  Then I started drunk texting him some horrible things.  I became self-destructive.  And I let Satan win that night.

After probably six drinks and multiple shots, I drove (assumedly all over the road) to the house that I had moved out of a month prior, threatened his new girlfriend and asked her to leave since my name was still on the house.  She refused and I grabbed my ex and physically pushed him against the side of the house and told him that he didn’t know who he was messing with.  He was three inches taller than me, and at least seventy pounds heavier.  He looked scared and I was asked to leave, so I got into my car, peeled out of the driveway and drove back to my apartment a complete wreck.

That night, I cried myself to sleep.  I realized that I was the one who wanted out of the marriage. I was the one who left.  I had chosen to rent another residence so that we could repair what we had built.  I believed he was able to be trusted and that he was still being faithful to me.

I, however, was the only one who wanted a commitment that would last. 

And for the first time, I also sadly realized that I had chosen a man who didn’t want anything I’ve listed.   He was simple and only wanted a woman on his arm.  And because I was asking for him to consider my feelings and goals, I was in shock because he had replaced me within a month’s time frame.

There was a woman in my house, laying next to my husband, who had a Harley in MY garage parked right next to his.  I could never compete with that.  That would never be me.  I wasn’t that type of girl.  I was a Christian who wrote short stories, downloaded music, met up with friends for drinks here and there…I would never be the barhopping wife he wanted who would help him please his ego.  He had chosen what he wanted, and since he couldn’t control me anymore, he moved on.

And the next morning, I woke up to a restraining order.  This quiet Christian woman who just wanted peace, had created havoc the night before, and now was being told to not return to the home my name was still legally attached to.  I was never violent with him; my words are my sharpest weapon.  What had I done?  And yet, it was a wake-up call I needed.

I write all of this to help myself see the difference in who I was five years ago, and to reassure myself that even though my intention to leave my husband was initially temporary, it was also the step I needed to see who he truly was.  We screamed and argued for years.  We dated (if you call it that) for six full years before getting married, and I still chased after him for a year and a half even after obtaining his last name.  The man didn’t want a devoted wife, he wanted a trophy.  He wanted someone who would dress provocatively so that it would draw attention to him.

I wasn’t that woman.  I still am not that woman.  I didn’t/don’t need public affirmation.  I just wanted a home with a dog and a family.  I wanted to write and serve God and do things with family.  He wanted parties every weekend  with friends sleeping over so we could rehash the craziness of the night before after we woke up with hangovers.  We were living two different lives under the same roof and I was oblivious because of my dreams (delusions?).

I believe I fell in love with the idea of being in love with him, but not who he was.  I’m not the first woman to do that, and I won’t be the last.  But we really need to know these things before entering into relationships with men.  They don’t need the expectations, and we don’t need the heartache.  We need to step into relationships when we know that the man is a man of God who will treat us as God would.  Or the best he can, this side of Heaven.

I also write this as a way of therapy.  This morning waking up and looking at the date, I am reminded of my independence.  I am reminded of my family reassuring me that God would forgive my divorce because I was biblically released, that I would be blessed for leaving an unhealthy marriage, and for starting over so that Christ could live in me and manifest Himself through my life without fear of what my ex would think.  I wanted to grow spiritually.  Living in that home, I was never able to do that.

I made many mistakes.  I drank a lot.  I smoked more cigarettes than I had in years.  I craved the bar scene and couldn’t stand to be alone in my apartment.  I worried about my ex, what he was doing, what he wasn’t doing, etc.  I filled my hours with beer, “friends” and “friends with benefits”.  Some nights, I was alone, other nights, I let the alcohol numb me and I shared myself with a few men in drunken situations because it filled my carnal needs.  Total shame.

Thankfully over time, I developed the realization that I was a person of value.  I was/am a child of God and God desired for me to be loved, but not like that- not in the arms of men who wanted my body but who didn’t care for my soul.  It has taken five years to let God revitalize the shell of who I was, and I am forgiven.  I am new.  It feels awesome to write that!!

I took a chance to save my marriage, but six months after I left, I lost it.  My ex husband and I were finalized by May and my name was off the house as of 7/7/07.

The road I’ve walked to get to where I’m at now is paved with a lot of tears, bloodshed, regret and sadness, but during that time, I was being renewed through Christ.  I lived on my own for a time, worked some bartending jobs, and met a lot of new people.  I never got an STD or ended up pregnant.  I put myself in some scary situations and had to learn how NOT to tell lies.  Slowly over time, I was growing in the Scriptures.  I learned the value of communication.  I learned to love others.  By April of 2007, I was going to a church in Elyria, Ohio.

I craved God.  I craved being around people who would help me instead of help me hide my pain.  I struggled with drinking the moment I left my ex-husband.  I got a DUI three months after leaving him.  I spent a weekend at a hotel as part of my sentence.  I met a man who was a great friend, but who had his own issues.  I started a new job.  I started dating said friend and began to learn many new things.  I had a love for cooking and being in the kitchen.  My brother and his wife had a new baby girl and I was craving time with them.  I began to spend more time with my parents.  I was reading my bible.  I was broke at times, and rich at others.  But this entire time, God was changing me and renewing me.

Reading Joel chapters 1 and 2 gave me a perspective of God’s great love for us.  Yes, US…every single one of us, who has walked (sometimes stumbled in a drunken stupor) off the path, and questioned His greatness, His presence, His judgement, His love…HE LOVES US.  He is slow to anger and abounding in love.

I was a wreck when I almost had a second DUI.  I had to do another weekend for 72 hours and attended the same program.  The coordinator of that weekend class was in awe.  He remembered me.  His first question was why was I there, and why would I attend the same class again?  Had I learned nothing?  I remember sitting across the table from him saying that I did indeed learned something, and I was on the road to recovery.

I had taken chances by walking away from a marriage, I had taken chances on drugs and alcohol, and I had taken chances on people I know would leave me the next morning.  I was ready to take a chance on love and hope.  He said he was proud of me, and I walked out of that hotel a changed woman back in September 2008.

I’ve rededicated myself to Jesus Christ.  I am a sinner who was once lost, but MAN have I been found!  I still mess up.  My words are still my worst weapon.  But I am aware.  I am now a wife and stepmother who knows the meaning of selflessness all too well.  I am simply me and I have forgiven my ex-husband.  I have forgiven myself and I have forgiven my past.  I have married again simply because I believe in love, forgiveness, trust and hope.  And I believe my new husband believes the same.  He is a man of God who has taught me much.

I guess through all of these ramblings, what I would like you to take away from it is if you are ever uncertain on whether to take a step, take the chance.  I’m not saying to walk away from your marriage or a job because you get mad at it.  But I am saying that if you are feeling that something is out-of-place, it’s okay to question it.  It’s okay to step out in fear, but end up leaning on Everlasting Arms.  Life is risk.  Love is out there.  Fear halts us and removes hope, but Jesus gives life.  He restored the years the locusts had eaten, and then some…simply because I took a chance…