Three Lessons From One Hard Year of Marriage

When I was 22 and living a thousand miles away from home in Dallas, Texas, I had a friend named Jerry. He was 27 and had been married for 4 years to Meg, who I thought was gorgeous and smart. They had a baby girl named Evie and seemed like they had it all together. It was clear that Jerry adored his wife. I met Jerry at my job, and I remember him telling me and another co-worker one day that when he and Meg had their one-year anniversary, they celebrated that they had both survived and that they were still married. I laughed and thought to myself, “That seems a little dramatic.”

The next year, I moved in with my friends Jacob and Camille, who were coming up on three years of marriage. We lived in a little ranch on Provincetown Lane with three bedrooms and a wine-stained dining room table. It was here that I first saw marriage up-close and personal; I would hear tones change when someone got irritated and heard the notes of sarcasm. I would also see Camille work to make delicious dinners for her husband and see Jacob surprise Camille with a clean kitchen. I remember chatting with Camille about their first year of marriage when she casually mentioned throwing a shoe. My eyes got wide, “You threw a shoe? Why?” “Not exactly sure,” shrugged Camille. “It was less at him and more in his general direction.”

I remember thinking, “For heaven’s sake, what makes people so upset and fiery?”

When I was 22 and living a thousand miles away from home in Dallas, Texas, I had a friend named Jerry. He was 27 and had been married for 4 years to Meg, who I thought was gorgeous and smart. They had a baby girl named Evie and seemed like they had it all together. It was clear that Jerry adored his wife. I met Jerry at my job, and I remember him telling me and another co-worker one day that when he and Meg had their one-year anniversary, they celebrated that they had both survived and that they were still married. I laughed and thought to myself, “That seems a little dramatic.”

The next year, I moved in with my friends Jacob and Camille, who were coming up on three years of marriage. We lived in a little ranch on Provincetown Lane with three bedrooms and a wine-stained dining room table. It was here that I first saw marriage up-close and personal; I would hear tones change when someone got irritated and heard the notes of sarcasm. I would also see Camille work to make delicious dinners for her husband and see Jacob surprise Camille with a clean kitchen. I remember chatting with Camille about their first year of marriage when she casually mentioned throwing a shoe. My eyes got wide, “You threw a shoe? Why?” “Not exactly sure,” shrugged Camille. “It was less at him and more in his general direction.”

I remember thinking, “For heaven’s sake, what makes people so upset and fiery?”

After one year of marriage to my precious husband, I can now say that when you make it to the end of each year of staying married and alive, you should celebrate. There is something about this sacred institution that both reveals our best and our worst because our intertwined souls are completely exposed to another human. We have never lived in a world where our independence is gone; all of our actions directly affecting this other person who lives in our space. It takes some getting used to, and the adjustment period is not always lovely.

Maybe some of you are laid back husbands and wives, but my husband and I are not. We are quick-tempered, intense, and opinionated. We hear every tone and sense every disagreement. It’s truly exhausting to be married to us.

This is what I have learned from a year of slamming doors, sharing joy, and throwing a fork into the sink one time just to make a point:

1.Protect your marriage at all costs.

I am 25, and I now have friends who have been divorced and friends who have come close. None of us are above it, and it’s not as foreign as you may think. Protect, protect, protect.

2.Laugh as often as possible.
For us – life gets too serious. There are bills to be paid, rooms to be cleaned, meals to plan, and children who need to work on their sight words. Be silly for absolutely no reason and laugh. It makes a significant difference.

3.Actively listen to your spouse and continue to discover them.
When you’ve been married for even a year, you can easily disappear into Pinterest. Or, if you’re my husband, watching endless videos of motorcycle racing on Youtube. Remember when you were dating your spouse and everything they said was fascinating? Time to bring it back. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’ve been missing truly feeling heard.

All that being said: Marriage is the best kind of work. If you’re just celebrating that you’re still alive and still married: you’re not alone. Power through the exhaustion and remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Protect, laugh, and listen.

All that being said: Marriage is the best kind of work. If you’re just celebrating that you’re still alive and still married: you’re not alone. Power through the exhaustion and remember that it’s a sprint, not a marathon. Protect, laugh, and listen.
When I was 22 and living a thousand miles away from home in Dallas, Texas, I had a friend named Jerry. He was 27 and had been married for 4 years to Meg, who I thought was gorgeous and smart. They had a baby girl named Evie and seemed like they had it all together. It was clear that Jerry adored his wife. I met Jerry at my job, and I remember him telling me and another co-worker one day that when he and Meg had their one-year anniversary, they celebrated that they had both survived and that they were still married. I laughed and thought to myself, “That seems a little dramatic.”

When I was 22 and living a thousand miles away from home in Dallas, Texas, I had a friend named Jerry. He was 27 and had been married for 4 years to Meg, who I thought was gorgeous and smart. They had a baby girl named Evie and seemed like they had it all together. It was clear that Jerry adored his wife. I met Jerry at my job, and I remember him telling me and another co-worker one day that when he and Meg had their one-year anniversary, they celebrated that they had both survived and that they were still married. I laughed and thought to myself, “That seems a little dramatic.”

The next year, I moved in with my friends Jacob and Camille, who were coming up on three years of marriage. We lived in a little ranch on Provincetown Lane with three bedrooms and a wine-stained dining room table. It was here that I first saw marriage up-close and personal; I would hear tones change when someone got irritated and heard the notes of sarcasm. I would also see Camille work to make delicious dinners for her husband and see Jacob surprise Camille with a clean kitchen. I remember chatting with Camille about their first year of marriage when she casually mentioned throwing a shoe. My eyes got wide, “You threw a shoe? Why?” “Not exactly sure,” shrugged Camille. “It was less at him and more in his general direction.”

I remember thinking, “For heaven’s sake, what makes people so upset and fiery?”

The Saturday of being a Step Mom – Easter Reflections

Holy Saturday reminds us that we are constantly between the already and the not yet.

Holy Saturday whispers: “Not yet. Wait. The joy is coming.”

Holy Saturday feels like an eternity. The longest day we will ever endure. Never ending sorrow left from the mourning of Good Friday.

On Good Friday, the world goes dark.

My entire life, the world was light. Good Friday was a tradition I upheld as I awaited my Sunday morning Easter basket. I unwaveringly believed that the joy was coming- why would it not, after all? If you follow the rules, if you stick to the script, the world will reward you by staying a bright place. I was assured that all would be well exactly how I thought it should be.

You see, I was completely on the inside when it came to the Church. My image, my reputation, was something I had worked hard to craft and maintain. I was privileged beyond belief (and still am in many ways); and had never been viewed as anything other than legitimate.

Until my world went dark.
I made one decision: to choose this blended life of uncertainty and unknowns, this life where I had no idea where I fit in. And most of all – I certainly did not feel legitimate. A legitimate mother, a legitimate wife, a legitimate Christian. My family didn’t line up with what I was taught families would look like.

All of the sudden I was entrenched in depression and anxiety, fighting with my new husband and struggling to parent a child I hardly knew. I have resentment that is foreign to me; rage I cannot begin to explain. In my mind, there is a way things should be and this was not it. 

I have slammed my screen door and stormed off into the night, even though it was thirty seven degrees outside and I had nowhere to go. I found myself accidentally near my pastor’s house because we are neighbors. And all I could think was, “PLEASE DON’T LOOK OUT YOUR WINDOW, EVERYTHING IS FINE. Hi Brandi. Yes, we love the new children’s curriculum! Just thought I would go for a walk in my pajamas in February.”

The image of me sitting on a curb in my pajamas in February was certainly not a part of the way I wanted to be perceived. My image was falling apart – it was now clear that I was barely making it through my own life.

I cried out to God and said, “Why is this the story I have been given? I hate attorneys and custody orders. I hate not knowing what my role is. I hate feeling like I am under a microscope. I hate being asked if I am the babysitter. I hate planning holidays around drop off times. Does anyone even care? Does anyone notice how hard I am working at this step mom thing? Why can’t I just be normal?!”

And Jesus has said, “Wait. The joy is coming.”

The world saw its darkest day two thousand years ago on a hill in the Middle East when God gave up Himself. God did His greatest work in the midst of the worst that humanity had to offer. We say that we earnestly believe in the resurrection- but we forget that first everything must die.

My resentment must die.
My pride must die.
My anger must die.
My snarkiness must die.
My idea of how things “should be” must die.

Nothing can be resurrected that has not died- it is the only way.

The message of Good Friday is that Jesus came because nothing is as it should be – but the Resurrection doesn’t come without the suffering. The Glory is coming, but first there is the crucifixion. The Resurrected King is resurrecting us.

Victory is coming. You can make it through Saturday, too.

It’s hard for them, too.

My parents gifted my husband and me a wedding album for Christmas. It’s absolutely beautiful and, more importantly, helps me actually remember my wedding. I was leafing through it a few nights ago, admiring the cake that my wildly talented cousin made herself, awestruck by the flowers that my dear friend Avery designed, when I started to notice some pictures of my gorgeous stepdaughter. She looked like a princess that day. Her waist length hair was brushed and done; her flower crown sat on her delicate blonde head. My bridesmaids and family members were super heroes that day, taking turns entertaining her and coloring with her. She was five years old and about to walk down the aisle in front of 360 people and I somehow failed to recognize that is a HUGE day for someone so little.

As I was admiring the photographs, I noticed something. It felt like I was seeing the two sides of Nyra come out through various pictures- at times she looked delighted and carefree. And yet in several, there was a different air about her. The air that comes with having to grow up too young; the air that comes from being only five and being asked to accept so much change. Her face in some of them depicts very clearly how sad and scared she was to watch her family go from two to three.

It suddenly dawned on me how terrifying our wedding day must have been for her. She wasn’t even in Kindergarten and her father was marrying someone who has only been in her life for a year. Someone who she is suddenly supposed to listen to now, someone who has a completely new set of expectations, someone who in many ways she doesn’t even know that well and people are asking if this is “her mom.”

Of course, on my wedding day, I wasn’t thinking about this at all. I was so caught up, so concerned, that she would have some kind of meltdown and ruin “my day.” I was so stressed that she wouldn’t make it through- but not for the right reasons. I just wanted my perfect, “normal” wedding day.

I wanted to cry looking at those pictures, to tell her how proud I am of the brave and strong girl she is. I snuck into her room, sat on her bed, and stroked her sweet blonde head. I told her as she slept that I am absolutely honored to help parent and, albeit shakily, raise her into the woman that God is creating her to be. I told her that she has had to deal with so much more than she should have to- and that the grace she handles it with is astounding.

Being a step mom is no joke. It’s hard, thankless, and exhausting. But we often forget that it is often so much harder for these step children. Their vision of a perfect family did not include us. They are given no choice – just a new life, new family. Remember- so much of this is terribly confusing for them. Let us give them grace upon grace upon grace. They are only babies and babies who have experienced deep grief and pain. Squeeze them and remind them that you love them and you are so, so well-pleased with them.

dear stepmama to be.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I know this wasn’t the dream. You had a different picture in your head- the kind where the man you marry doesn’t have children. I know, I know. If you’re in the Church, then the nuclear family is emblazoned in your mind as God’s “ideal.” You wonder if God is okay with this; or if He could have even planned for this. That makes sense.

It’s okay to not be in love with this new dream yet. Hell, Im in it and I’m still not in love with it all of the days. It’s okay to question, and it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s hard. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing- let’s remember that the best things don’t come easily.

Go ahead and get into counseling. Trust me. You’ll need someone. Find your Sabrina (that’s my lovely counselor who deserves a lot of awards). Probably a lot of your friends won’t understand, and a lot of them will tell you to run. Sometimes you should listen to them; it’s not a journey that promises a lack of pain.

I won’t give you advice about how much you should love his children beforehand, or what kind of personality you should have. I didn’t know how I felt about Nyra for awhile and, as I’ve mentioned before, my personality is kind of the worst fit.  There are no formulas; there is no manual for this.

Find your tribe. You will need other mamas to text to ensure that you aren’t going crazy. You will need someone to tell you a story of the worst tantrum their child ever threw because it will help you breathe easily again.  If a mama makes you feel like less than because of how your child behaves, run away. This is hard enough to handle as a normal mama but as a stepmama? You will have enough criticism to deal with. If you can find another stepmama to talk to, you won’t believe the instant camaraderie you feel. These mamas will keep you going.

A whole new world is about to be opened up to you. Words like custody orders and drop off times – words that previously had no meaning to you will now become your life. This is a huge thing to adjust to- your life is now on a court ordered parenting schedule. If that makes you panic a little bit, that is okay. Me too.

Get on the same page as your husband, or boyfriend, or fiancé. But also recognize that you may not always be 100% on the same page. Isn’t that a fun balance? Make sure he is committed to putting your marriage first, if that’s where you’re headed. If he is a good man, this will be incredibly difficult for him. Giancarlo couldn’t fathom putting our marriage before Nyra because everything was out of order. God revealed to him that the best thing for Nyra was for her to live with two parents who loved Jesus and each other. And here we are, stumbling through this marriage thing.

But this whole new world opens up a hidden group of people that you may have never noticed. Blended families are everywhere because brokenness is everywhere. You will learn so many people’s stories. You will see so clearly how God is using our pain and consistently doing what He promises- making us more like His Son.You will open your heart to a little person and be shocked by their love. You will be overwhelmed by how they need you. I remember when Nyra was a flower girl for the first time and she was having a meltdown and Giancarlo wasn’t there. I was the one she wanted and needed. Step mama, you will be so important in the life of this tiny human. Remember that you are doing holy work.

It’s not simple or easy, but the Way never is. Dear stepmama-to-be, you’ve got this.

 

 

 

 

 

can anyone hear me?

You know those awful, terrible dreams where you’re screaming but no sound will come out?

Unheard. That’s what being a step mama feels like sometimes.

Tears falling, I told my husband in shaky tones, “It’s like I’m sitting in a chair in the pitch black dark. . .and I’m saying, ‘Hello? Is anyone there? I’m so scared.’ But no one answers. So I say it again, louder this time. ‘I’m so scared. Can anyone hear me? Is anyone there?’ And the longer no one answers, the more hysterical I feel. I start speaking louder and start to scream. I just want someone to answer. I want someone to say, ‘You’re okay! There is nothing to be afraid of- it just seems scary because it’s unknown! You are safe.’ But no one does. So I just sit in the darkness.”

Isolated. That’s what being a step mama feels like sometimes.

It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable. I feel like I’m faking it when the three of us are out in public. Like everyone thinks we are a “normal” family, like them, but I’m so afraid for people to start asking questions. I walk into Nyra’s kindergarten classroom, kiss her on the cheek, watch her run to her friend and notice that half her braid is still in her shirt. Her friend who cannot be older than five and a half looks at me and says…”So, you’re the step mother?”

And then sometimes, like Parent-Teacher night, my cover is blown. Everyone knows because, well, Nyra does not have two moms and a dad who all live together. Not the way it works. Of course, very few people are actually paying attention to this, but my insecurity is at its peak.

Imposter. That is what a step mama feels like sometimes.

There are people who cut right to the chase and go ahead and ask the uncomfortable questions. Hello, stranger. Yes, my husband did have a child before me. Nope, not mine! Did the long blonde hair give it away? Does that seem like something I would want to discuss with you?

Then there are the folks who shut down immediately when they discover that Nyra is in fact my stepdaughter. All of the sudden there is a hurdle between us, I am the “other kind of people.” Hello, it’s nice to meet you, my family is founded on brokenness. I’m sure I am particularly oversensitive to this – but I feel it.

Normally stressful decisions, like where a child will go to school, multiply intensely in blended family scenarios. Too many opinions. Different philosophies. Money concerns. Even in the best of situations, conflict is abundant when it comes to things like this.

It gets so overwhelming sometimes.

It’s painful, and it’s so tempting to want to just take the edge off. I want that extra glass of wine, that pint of ice cream, to lose myself in a different story than this terrifying one. It feels like it’s just too much to be still and feel all the feelings.

I have no answers except I know that He hears us. In that dark terrifying room where I can’t see a thing He says, “I am Light and in Me there is no darkness at all.”

Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.

 

 

 

dear nyra.

Dear Nyra,

I still remember the first day I met you. I was shaking scared. You were wearing a white dress and a pink cardigan, your Rapunzel hair pulled back. I said quietly, “Hi, Nyra. I like your bear.” You were still three. You buried your head in your dad’s shoulder. I don’t know who was more nervous- you or me. Me. It was definitely me. You had no idea who I was.

I knew who you were – I had been praying for you for a few weeks at this point. I was terrified by the concept of you. I was trying to understand the weight of what I was getting myself into. I couldn’t process it, but of course I couldn’t. No one could process something so huge.

Once I met you and you became real, I became determined that whatever happened with your dad and I – I couldn’t bear to hurt you. I refused to get close to you unless I really knew it was going to be forever. You had been through plenty, I wanted to do my best to not add to that.

When I moved home and we started to spend lots of real time together, it was hard. Oh sweet girl it was so hard. You were only four years old and I expected way too much of you. I genuinely hope you won’t remember most of this difficult transition. I came in thinking I knew so much about parenting, and I didn’t even know you. I didn’t understand you yet – how you’re an internalizer, shy, sensitive. You are so different from me and I thought that different must be wrong. But I was the wrong one.

The reality of the situation is this: you loved me first. You did not pick me and I did not pick you – but God chose us for each other in this messy, beautiful relationship.  I was terrified to love you. What if you didn’t love me back? You certainly had no reason to love me. I came in and disrupted your order. You were accustomed to your dad having all eyes on you; and out of nowhere there was someone else in the picture. I challenged how he did discipline, I changed things that had always “been.” And yet, you just loved me. I did not deserve it or even try to earn it. I was intent on keeping my distance at first. And, in a  beautiful picture of the Gospel, you loved me still.12743794_10206661629244797_784786640018842995_n.jpg

You are a beautiful, kind, hilarious little girl. You make us laugh so hard. You ask the best questions. You are the bravest child I know. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be you – going back and forth all the time. Your little life feeling so out of your control. You handle it so well. You tell us what you think and what makes you sad. You cry when you’re sad- that is so brave, Nyra. Never lose that.

Precious girl- Jesus loves you so much. He is with you no matter what house you are in. He loves you no matter how mad you get that not everyone lives in the same house. I love that when we read the Jesus Storybook Bible you stop me frequently and say, “Hold on. So…let me get dis stwaight…” Don’t lose that either – God welcomes all of your questions. He delights in them, you are His child. Repeat after me: You are His.

I did not birth you, I am not your mother. But I will love and protect you – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, for all the days of my life.

And I’m sorry that I still have to brush your hair.

Love,

 

Mama E

 

who I really am.

In college, I lived with three fabulous girls in Boone in a tiny house that was always cold, and ironically, called The Hot House. It was truly the absolute best. We spent years laughing over Carlie’s old lady pajamas and my tendency to be confused about how being an adult works. We screamed about mice and the occasional roach. We spent nights curled up in Carlie’s teeny bed while Claire would read us Cold Tangerines. We dreamed about our futures; celebrated victories in the ministries we were leading. We cried at our wooden table on chairs with cushions that fell off constantly. What did we cry about? Majority: Boys that did not like us back. Boys that stopped calling us. Friendship drama. Feeling left out. Feeling disoriented about what we were supposed to do next.

On those nights, when I would be sitting at the table crying and eating Nutella straight from the jar, Hannah would be crying while washing the dishes, Carlie would be crying watching a cartoon, and then we would magically discover Claire crying in her room we would all say, “Ugh. Life is so hard.” Then I would typically share the Nutella.

And at that point in our life – it really really was so hard. I was just discovering that I needed anxiety medication. I was going through a horrendous break up that tore apart my heart, soul, and friend group. Several things happened one year in particular that made me upset and angry, but for whatever reason it felt manageable. All of those girls would say I was not quick to be angry, that I was consistently looking for a way to respond in a gracious manner. I could quote over and over again, “live in a manner worthy of the Gospel.” I would kind of lie and say, “It’s really hard but Jesus is better and I want Him and I want peace more than I want anger and bitterness.” Truthfully, it wasn’t all that difficult to respond graciously in those moments. I was getting to look super holy and it wasn’t even that cumbersome, score!

It’s so hard to look at those times and not laugh at myself, because I just had no freaking idea. 

I have been married for almost three months. Three months. The level of anger that I have experienced since being engaged and married is beyond what I could have have dreamed. Circumstances are challenging. The level of resentment that I can feel towards aspects of our situation is frightening. The anger that has come is unrecognizable to me. I have never been like this before – with rage constantly beneath the service. I snap at Customer Service people now. I almost lost my mind yesterday because I couldn’t find a tape measurer (very rational).

I have kept telling (lying) to myself that this was everyone else’s fault. It’s my husbands fault. It’s the court system’s fault. That if things weren’t so damn hard, I would be DELIGHTFUL to be around. “This is not who I really am,” I have said to myself. “These circumstances have made me this way.”

The problem is, these difficult things did not create my anger and bitterness – it revealed it. It’s as if God is saying, “Actually, darling, this is who you really are. Welcome.” Marriage and parenthood magnify and expose our weaknesses – they, unfortunately, show us who we really are. And for me, it is not a pretty picture.

I had a dream of how I would handle marriage and stepmotherhood, and let me tell you, it is not panning out.  My husband has been doing all of this way longer than me, and I ask him all the time, “How do you do this?! How?!”

He is calm. He is steady. He is slow to become angry. When I ask him “HOW?!” He always says the same thing, “I just got too tired to live that way. Aren’t you tired?” 

Y’all, I. am. so. tired.

My husband then reminds me what I already know, that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. 

That He invites us to rest from our sorrows and shame.

That He has made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.

He knows every inch of our hearts, our anger, our bitterness, our selfishness, the depths of our sin and adores us and calls us His children.

It’s so painful, but in this season I am getting an extra dose of, “you are a whole lot worse than you think you are. Welcome to the club.” I have never needed the Gospel more. I have never needed to believe with every ounce of my being that love wins. It does, it does, it does. It covers a multitude of saying the wrong thing, of lashing out. It was first displayed on the cross, covering us. I can’t walk confidently in my own strength, I have to walk in His.

We are able to let go in confidence that He is able. Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

How do I work through my anger now? Every morning I drive down Battleground Avenue and say to myself, “Jesus, You are good. You are good. You are good.” I tell it to myself quietly, trusting that repeating it will allow for it to soak into my soul. On my worst days, as I have mentioned before, I feel cheated. But what do I think I deserve? I ask the Lord every day to bring me back to a place where I can say, “It’s really hard but Jesus is better and I want Him and I want peace more than I want anger and bitterness.”

And then I trust that He is not through with me yet.