tell the truth.

When I led Young Life, there was one thing they would always say in your first Leader Meeting when you arrived to camp. We would sit in that cramped leader lounge, smelly from a long bus trip and chugging coffee to prepare  for  the week ahead. The head leaders would quiet us down, smile, and say: “You made it, congratulations.” They would go over logistics and then start to talk about cabin time. And every time, without fail, they would remind us: “Vulnerability breeds vulnerability.” 

I think this is true for every day life – although recently I feel like I’ve been testing it’s limits. A couple Sundays ago, we dragged ourselves into church after a super tough morning with our child. Poor little one has been going through a lot of transition recently, and I did not respond well. I lost my patience, I screwed up. Getting to church at all felt like a bigger miracle than feeding the five thousand.

Becca saw me taking Nyra to Sunday School and I must have looked especially bedraggled because she immediately said, “Hey….are you okay?” She was probably expecting, “Oh yeah, fine! Just tired!”

Instead I took a deep breath and said, “Nope not really. I screamed at the child this morning for the first time ever. Screamed. Still kind of mad. And then had to ask forgiveness from a five year old. So not great!” And then in that brief moment, I felt that panic that I had said too much. “Now Becca knows I’m crazy. Just stop talking. Say you’re kidding. Maybe you can contain this.”

I’m not sure what I expected her to do, but she did just what I needed. She looked at me and said, “That is really okay and that really makes sense. We all lose it sometimes. You are doing great.”

We lose so much opportunity when we don’t tell the truth about how we’re really doing. We lose wisdom, empathy, grace. When we put up walls and say, “I’M REALLY FINE JUST TIRED” through gritted teeth, there’s no space there for other people to also tell us the truth about who we are. And we need it. I need it. It’s so easy to feel like we are too much.

The thing is though, the truth sets us free. It’s so easy to isolate ourselves and say, “No one understands. No one would even get it, if I told them. I am the only one who feels this way.” I swear  that if the Enemy has a favorite lie, it’s “You are alone. You are the only one who has ever felt this way.” The truth brings all of our shame into the light, it tells the darkness that it no longer has any hold.

And the more we tell the truth, we give other people permission to tell the truth too. Vulnerability breeds vulnerability. The truth sets us free, but it sets others free too. They think to themselves, “If she can tell the truth, maybe I can too. Life is much harder than I thought and I am not okay.”

The truth is: I am barely making it a lot of days. I love my husband madly, but this adjustment period is tough on both of us. Some nights, at 11 pm before I go to bed, I sneak into Nyra’s room and cover her up and kiss her on the forehead and say, “Love you sweet girl.” And in a mumbled asleep voice, every now and then she’ll say “Mmmmhmm love you too night.” In those brief spans of time, life feels sweet and so able to be handled.

And some nights, I sit on my kitchen floor and cry and tell God out loud, that I do not like this at all, thank you very much. I tell him that being in a blended family is too hard and in case He did not hear me the first time, “I DO NOT LIKE THIS VERY MUCH RIGHT NOW.”

I am so thankful that I can tell Jesus the truth, and that He tells it right back to us. You are Mine, You are Loved, You are Enough. That is truth. Don’t listen to the lies.

Whom the Son sets free, oh is free indeed.

 

not cut out for this.

On a Friday night, I was laying in my bed and UGLY crying. I wish I could say this was a rare event, but it has happened more times than either of us would have liked for it to since we have been married. Blended family dynamics have not been an seamless adjustment.

I finally caught my breath and said in a mumbled voice through sobs, “I am not cut out for this.”
My husband, with more humor in his tone than I wanted, said “You know…you’re really not. And that is really okay.”

Lots of sweet and gracious people have told me how much they admire my ability to be a step mama. A dear friend even told me that it completely made sense to her that I would marry someone with a child; that my personality was a good fit for it. Let me go ahead and dispel any misconceptions: in so many ways, my personality is an absolutely terrible fit for the particular situation I have found myself in.

I am terribly impatient. I mean, ridiculously impatient. I can barely write this blog and edit it. I edit it once and then I have to publish it because I am so impatient. I eat my dinner as I make it. When I am scooping ice cream, only 30% of it makes it into the bowl. Anyone who is a parent knows that this quality does not translate to having children. Also, the child has hair that takes TWO HOURS  to brush. I cannot.

I basically worship control. In my little family, there was a court order written a long time ago that I had nothing to do with. There is not a single thing that I can do about it. Nothing. Nyra lives in another home too, which is the epitome of loss of control.  I get very little say in plenty of things that affect me significantly. For someone who loves control, everything about our situation can feel painfully difficult.

Nyra is, across the board, a kind and compliant child. She is a great kid. However, she is a little human and of course imperfect. Her particular character flaws clash with mine so strongly it sometimes blows my mind. It’s like if I could make a list of the things that a child could do to drive me crazy, those are all the things she struggles with. I didn’t realize it was possible to want to “get back” at a five year old, but sometimes I REALLY REALLY do. Recently, she was being a pain and kept doing something she knew she wasn’t supposed to, and I said “GO AHEAD. Do it one more time. I DARE YOU.” #motheroftheyear.

And, for the cherry on top, I struggle with anxiety and a touch of OCD. Mostly obsessive thinking. You know what’s really fun? Obsessing about all the potential terrible things that could happen in ten years in your family. And then I try to reel my poor husband into the anxiousness so we can figure out how to “control” this possible thing that hasn’t happened yet. He, as the sane person, refuses to engage and try to “fix” the imaginary future problem. Sometimes it feels like I am in one of those nightmares where I am screaming but no one can hear me. It’s lovely, really.

I started to dig into the deep inadequacy I was feeling (common theme clearly) and I remembered Moses for some reason. In Exodus, Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? … I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

Moses is voicing what I tell God regularly. I AM NOT CUT OUT FOR THIS.

 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.

When it is so obvious that we are weak, we are unable, that is where God gets to be God.  My need for Him is never greater when I realize that I actually can’t do this. I can’t. He has to, there is no other option, no plan B.

Moses did not split the red sea, God did. Moses did not deliver the Israelites, God did. He repeated to Moses time and time again what He repeated to us in the form of His Son, “I am God and I am with you.”

I am no different. So here I am, trying to believe that God is desiring to use me and transform me. Promising that He is standing next to me, has gone before me, and is behind me. Trusting (very poorly most days) that the pain is a foreshadowing of coming joy. And saying, “Here I am. I have no clue what I’m doing. I really hope You do.”

fear thou not.

I had always heard that the most repeated phrase in the Bible was “Do not fear.” We can’t seem to remember this one, so God tells us over and over again. Whispers it.

“Do not fear.”

I have lived for so long in fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. God is love and is the opposite of fear. Another blogger who I adore always says: love trumps fear. 

I repeated this phrase to myself over and over again right before we got engaged. Do not fear. FEAR IS NOT THE BOSS OF ME. Love trumps fear. Fear does not rule me. Every time I would hear some blended family horror story (and there are countless). Every time I conjured up a new scenario in my brain about how my life is now shot to hell because of this one thing that happened to this one person one time.

Do not fear.

Nyra and I have a beautiful relationship. She doesn’t slam the door and yell, “You’re not my real mom!” She doesn’t tell me she doesn’t have to listen to me. She doesn’t tell me she doesn’t love me.

But she could, tomorrow. And that would be normal. Things could change on a dime.

Do not fear.

The second most repeated phrase in the Bible is remember. In church last Sunday, we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” I love that hymn dearly. But as I was singing it, I felt a twinge of “Do you really believe that?” I paused. Being a step mama has turned my life upside down. Things do not go my way all the time. The sense of control that most parents seem to have is diminished regularly. We don’t get to decide what we think is best for her and implement it at the drop of a hat. We just don’t. And I get angry. I want to scream, “BUT I DID EVERYTHING RIGHT! I made the ‘right’ choices. I gave my life away in ministry. I have tried to pursue Jesus with everything I have; AND THIS IS WHAT I GET?”

I am not sure who told me this lie: that if I didn’t drink until I was 21 and became a Young Life Leader and didn’t have sex until I was married, I would get a LOVELY life in return. It felt owed to me. I am a classic Elder Brother who says to his father, “All of these years I have slaved for you! I have never disobeyed your orders!”

And the Lord says to me gently, “Remember.”

Remember that Jesus promises us nothing but Himself. We are not promised a tidy life, financial prosperity, or easy relationships. We Remember the moments that God has shown up big time and we cling to them with everything we have; because I can guarantee you we will forget. We remember when it is Light so we can hang on when the Darkness inevitably comes.

One of the most powerful passages of Scripture that exists is in the book of Daniel. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are about to be burned alive. They say, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

God is beyond able to save us…but even if he doesn’t, we aren’t going anywhere. The reality is, we will not always be delivered. We won’t. On this side of heaven, sometimes cancer wins. Custody hearings make your heart split in two. Addiction prevails. Marriages crumble. Jobs are lost. Children are wayward. But we have this great hope, it is written on our hearts, and we trust that His presence is enough. We trust that great is His faithfulness and that He is good.

But even if He doesn’t, here we are. Trusting that His presence resides within us. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Fear not. Remember.

 

 

 

to be carried.

Apparently, people have “triggers” when it comes to parenting. I didn’t know what a trigger was, but then Millie told me that it’s those things that make me completely lose it. I’ve been learning that a huge trigger for me is embarrassment. I became responsible for a tiny human and now I am embarrassed all the time.

It comes from an untrue assumption that every is watching me and that everyone cares. Anytime she doesn’t say please in front of a stranger. Anytime she doesn’t say “hello” back immediately to someone. Talking loudly to Genevieve in church. When she gives one of us the stink eye post-getting in trouble for talking loudly in church.

I can feel it. My cheeks are burning, teeth are gritted. I can feel the anxiety wash over me. Everyone is watching me and they know I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. EVERYONE KNOWS! It’s classic imposter syndrome. I am just waiting to be found out that I am 100% making up everything as I go.

One of the most recent things I have felt embarrassed about is that Nyra doesn’t take communion. In the Anglican tradition, it isn’t very strange, but lots of our friends who have littles around her age do take communion. I get embarrassed and insecure. I see teeny Jubilee toddle up to the front and dip her bread in the wine and I think OH MY GOSH NYRA’S BEHIND. Not only that, but she is SPIRITUALLY BEHIND. THAT IS NOW A THING AT FIVE YEARS OLD. I think Jubilee knows the Apostles Creed and Nyra forgot who Moses was last week. She thought he was Noah. I AM FAILING. And naturally, communion is in front of everyone, so once again it feels like my embarrassment is on display.

I  wanted to force it so badly.  JUST TAKE THE BREAD, CHILD! PRETEND YOU’RE INTO IT. But every week, like clockwork, when it comes time to walk down the aisle she lifts up her little arms to be carried. Giancarlo carries her and she receives her blessing. If it’s Ben Wall up at the front, he just whispers, “Jesus loves you.” Other priests say beautiful blessings, but I love that Ben whispers, “Jesus loves you.” I hope she hears it, tucks it away in her heart, remembers it.

I told Giancarlo during church one Sunday that I was embarrassed that she doesn’t take communion. I said something snarky like, “She is too OLD to be carried for heaven’s sake. Ugh we need to get on this communion thing. Didn’t I explain it to her last week? After the Moses incident?!” I apparently get snarky when embarrassed. He said quietly back to me, “I like to carry her.”

I was taken aback. He continued, “When she was around two and things were much harder and felt uncertain, she never wanted to go up. But I was determined to get her up there so she could still receive a blessing. It was so important to me. I didn’t care how she got up there; and ever since then I’ve carried her.”

I stop. Breathe in, breathe out. Realize that I am married to such an astounding man. We have all been carried. None of us have entered into faith on our own. We have all been carried, at times unwillingly, to the feet of Jesus. We have all been helpless. And when we get there, we aren’t chastised for not wanting to come. We are reminded that we are Beloved. He doesn’t care how we got there, He doesnt care if we had the right motives.

I love the Eucharist and I love the Table. I love that week after week, Jesus meets us in a dingy high school auditorium. I love that the Body, the Blood, and Blessings are enough even when our hearts aren’t in it. It still sustains. It doesn’t change, it is unwavering, infallible.

We get to carry her, and I am so grateful.

“For as long as we take this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

 

kairos.

We miss her, a lot.

Sharing custody of children is gut wrenching. We say things like, “your other house.” I wash and fold clothes from that other house, put them all in a bag and return them when I remember. I struggle with anxiety whenever she has a weird day or isn’t a good listener. I can feel myself thinking, “She goes back to her other house tomorrow. What if we aren’t okay by then?” She went through a phase where I swear she would always get in trouble ten minutes before she would get picked up. What are you supposed to do?

I didn’t used to think like this.

I remember counting down the hours until she would go back. I was overwhelmed and wanted to feel a sense of normalcy. I felt like I was just trying to survive. I was so hypersensitive to everything she did. And now, I have literally shed tears over underwear that has days of the week on it, because some of it will never get worn.

Everyone knows that time with your children is precious, but you feel it so strongly when you are only with them part of the time.

It’s pouring down rain, lightning is flashing across the sky. We wonder, “Is she okay? Is she scared?” We have the heartbreaking reality that her kindergarten teacher will often spend more time with her than we do.

So when we have her, I do my very best to hold her tight. I do my best to read that longer story, Amelia Bedelia, even though I have to explain every. single. double meaning.  Some nights I lay down next to her and listen to her talk about every hilarious thing that goes through her head. She asks tough questions about Jesus. I remember that it is not my job to answer everything perfectly, it is my job to be evidence that Jesus loves her fiercely. We do the sign of the cross over her sweet little blonde head and trust that the Lord is faithful, even in small ritual.

I do my very best to remember that it is okay to let things go. It is okay that she was intent on wearing a tiger costume to church. Whatever. It is okay that she mostly just wants to dance with Mae during church. It’s hard for me to sit still through 80% of our services too. Sometimes people find it endearing. It’s okay that my failed attempt to make carrots taste better, apparently, “made dem taste even badder” (at least the child is honest).

This is all easier said than done. The Greek word kairos explains to us that not all moments in time are created equal. There are those moments, those thin places, when you can feel the presence of God unmistakably. Every moment that we have Nyra does not always feel kairos, but I am working on increasing my sensitivity. I am holding onto little moments, Nyra saying “you can sit next to me…if you want.” That may seem small, but it’s a kairos moment. Picking out Father’s Day gifts for Giancarlo. Her bringing me a glass of water when I said I wasn’t feeling well.

Mamas, if you have your babies all the time, hold them tight.

good enough.

“Emily, he is so solid. I think you guys would really get along.”

“No.”

“You haven’t even met him yet. WE LOVE HIM. Give him a chance.”

“He is 21. He has a child. He is a baby with a baby. Absolutely not.”

The above is a real conversation that ensued prior to my meeting Giancarlo. I was SO NOT ON BOARD. Not even remotely.

I had grown up in a fairly picturesque family. Two parents, married forever, three siblings. We all went to private school, stayed in the same church our whole lives, and everything was mostly calm. We had sibling squabbles and I fought with my parents about my curfew. I cannot stress enough how much I did not understand the concept of family drama. I planned on carrying on this tradition. I would get married, we would have children, and I would work hard to make sure that we were a freaking Norman Rockwell painting. That was the plan.

I truly, truly believed with every ounce of my being that having a perfect family was the road to happiness. Don’t get me wrong, a strong family structure has plenty of benefits, many of which I’m reaping. But I made it an idol, the thing that would be the end all be all. Nothing can live up to that standard. And when you believe it can, it becomes devastating when it all crashes down.

The funny thing is, when we look at Scripture, left and right we see families that are straight up jacked up. If you look through the Old Testament alone we see siblings casually murdering each other, babies born from maidservants, blatant favoritism. The list goes on and on. Yet, these are the families God chooses to tell His stories.

And of course, the greatest redemption story of all time is told from a teenager pregnant out of wedlock and a non-biological father. Imagine that. The family that is used to tell the Greatest Story in existence is a young, unwed teenage girl. It was good enough.

Lots of the days, our little family still feels jacked up. There are questions about priorities and jealousy. Insecurity rears its ugly head regularly. We struggle to get on the same page. And on those days I find myself thinking, “God, what kind of story are you trying to tell here? Because this one frankly SUCKS.”

I’m sure Joseph felt the same way when, you know, his siblings sold him into slavery. “God, what kind of family is this? What is the point? What kind of story is this?”

I wonder if Sara felt the same way when Hagar became pregnant. “Lord, what are you doing? What kind of story is this?”

I’m sure Mary felt the same way. “What are people going to think? What kind of story is this?”

His favorite thing is to make beauty from ashes, to bring dead things to life, to use the weak to shame the strong. I didn’t want to become ashes, to die, or to become weak. I wanted to be the best on my own. I didn’t want to need redemption.

On my best days I meditate on Esther, “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.” I feel empowered and ready to take on whatever curveball the story will throw at me.

On the other days, I feel exhausted and over it. I want things to be simpler. And on those days, He says “this is good enough for Me. This is going to be a beautiful story.”

 

 

grieving.

As I was scrolling through Pinterest trying to figure out how to sneak vegetables into mac and cheese (because desperation), a print with a quote stopped me in my tracks. It said,

Weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life you have.”

I was quickly brought back to sitting in Sabrina’s office, my leg moving nervously. Eyes darting around to the scripture on her walls. Avoiding her gaze. Giancarlo and I had been dating for six months and I was already in counseling. She was examining my responses closely, as she always does. She kept saying the same thing. “You are thinking about marrying him. You have to grieve it. You have to grieve the family that you will never have, the ‘perfect’ life you thought would come to be. It will be different than you thought. And you have to grieve the losses.”

I refused to. It was too hard, too raw.

Somehow, it took me 23 years to learn that life is hard as hell. I had lived oblivious to this fact for most of my life. I thought if I followed the rules, I was guaranteed easy. Recently, God has opened up my eyes that so many people are deeply grieving something. Most of our lives have not gone as planned.

We have dear friends who have had to grieve that they will most likely never have biological children. Friends whose parents died suddenly and now will never know their grandchildren. I have friends who were absolutely positive they would be married by now. Friends whose marriages are coming apart. Where are these lives we thought we would live? 

I never thought marrying a man with a child would be part of my story. I never dreamed that I would cry for countless hours over custody orders, unknown futures, and certain symbols of the past making me nauseous.

But, back to the grieving. We still have to grieve. The Psalms become your best friend because they offer no explanation, and are unapologetic about pain and suffering. The Psalms cry out to God with anger and frustration. The Psalms are full of unanswered questions, yearnings that are not met. The Psalms give us permission to say “Why, God? Why??.” He is not afraid of our questions, our anger, our grief. He is all too familiar. Jesus Himself has felt grief beyond what we can imagine, Jesus has felt his heart be torn in two. Jesus has had his soul overcome with sorrow to the point of death. And what did he do? He cried out to God, with the Psalms. Psalm 22 to be exact. “Why have you forsaken me??”

Grief is a terrifying emotion to give yourself over to. I have a memory of calling Giancarlo at 2 am on a summer night because I couldn’t stop crying. I kept saying “This is not what I had hoped for. This is so scary. I am so scared.” (side note: He is a trooper).

What I am slowly learning is that this is the story the Lord has given me. It is mine and mine only to live boldly and with great hope. What I’m learning though, is that we can’t fast forward through the grief. We let Him meet us in our grief and let Him say “I know, I know, I know, and I love you.” We have to sit in it, in all the pain.

And then we can embrace. And then, we rise.