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Thursday, December 27, 2018

Our Christmas season has been just lovely.  I'm grateful for the way our family can come together and be intentional about celebrating Christ's arrival.

Mr. Wonderful and I drove through the mountains on Christmas morning, there was snow on the high elevations and I was tempted to go further!

We had a yummy lunch with special friends ...

Then we were ready to gather with our children.

(He made me this candle - it smells SO good)

Sugar cookies are one of my favorite things.

We get to spend time with family near and far - our Christmas isn't done.  May you keep the spirit of Christmas all year long!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Why I Love This Wonderful Life! (Blended, Steps & Bios)

Recently I was asked by someone who reads the blog and hears some of what I say about the challenges of blended family life whether I was happy with my choice to remarry and blend our family.  My heart was so sad that my representation left her questioning my satisfaction.  Marrying Mr. Wonderful is one of the very best decisions I have ever made!  I am thankful for our family for so many reasons.

1. We are a living example of how God brings something beautiful out of heartache.

2. Our children have an expanded idea of life - it isn't perfect and that's okay. 

3. Each of us have a larger sense of gratitude.  We have lived through more difficult times and are grateful to come through better.

4. We accept faults with grace. We try to view others with compassion when someone is having a hard day, or week.

5. I see Mr. Wonderful choose us, every single day.  This is such a beautiful gift and one I do not take for granted. 

For these and so many reasons that I cannot even number, I'm thankful every single day for our beautifully imperfect family!  I never want others to wonder whether I think it is worth it - a thousand times, Yes!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

You're Not Too Late

All around I am watching the holiday decorations appear on streets, in stores and even through the windows of many homes.  On social media I see many of my friends already have their Christmas tree shining in their living room.  It's lovely and gets me excited for the season!

I'm still looking at fall foliage - both outside and inside my windows.  A little part of me feels panicked that I'm somehow behind and missing an invisible deadline!

Maybe you feel the same way about something.  It seems like everyone else has beat you to the goal.  Is it even worth the effort when it all feels like a game of catch-up?

Yes!  Enjoy this moment just as it is - for me, that means a harvest themed Thanksgiving with lots of gravy.  I don't know what it means for you, but you know exactly what you need to shift your focus from scarcity to gratefulness.

I've put up a page with articles on holiday issues - we have a lot of them in modern family life.  I hope your season is filled with joy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Frightful Switching Hour

Most mothers recall the "Witching Hour" between dinner and bedtime during those toddler years.  Little ones are tired, but mama doesn't want to wake at 5:00 am, so it's a little early for official bedtime.  Thus begins the witching hour: where we try to entertain, but they are just fussy, easily frustrated and extra tired.  We are also at the end our days, depleted of reserves and often simply worn down.

Ten + years later, I see the same sense of anxiety as we approach the "Switching Hour" in our post-divorce normal life.  My three children don't have the normalcy of having all their possessions in one place or sleeping in the same bed every night.  While they are excited to spend time with dad, it means saying goodbye to mom and their family here.  I'm sure they face emotional conflict when they return to me. 

Eight years after the divorce, I still get weepy.  No longer am I tender for my own sake, the divorce is part of my past.  But it is part of my children's lives everyday.  It will be a part for years to come.  It is a pain that I cannot erase.  Questions like, "Where will I go for college breaks?"  "Who should we spend Thanksgiving with this year?"  "Are we all going to Mom's for Christmas?  Dad's?" 

I am confident that each one is resilient and strong.  They will survive this and as parents we are doing our best to ensure they aren't hindered.  But no wonder those transition days are tough.  I witness the tension, the struggle and the insecurity as they try to anticipate what they might need or want during the days away.  The mental list of things they need to remember to bring is a drain on their brain power.  The emotional drain is a challenge as they say goodbye, hello and are expected to quickly acclimate to a different environment.

It's a downer when your favorite hat is in another car during crazy hat day at school.  It's hard to remember to bring the gear for spirit day from one home to another.  My children don't always know if a parent has signed the permission slip or paid fees.  The reality of children switching between homes is not easy.

If you have someone in your life who lives in this reality, be gentle with him or her.  Try to accommodate for the extra number of goodbyes experienced by the child each week.  When difficulties arise on transition days, respond with calm instead of frustration.   With the current cultural standard for children to move between two homes, this is the norm for so many.  I don't think we fully understand the sacrifices they are making for our shortcomings.

Since it is our reality, I'm doing this:

1) Making sure my children know they have access to mom and dad whenever they need or want.

2) Keeping those transition days low-key.  We try not to plan for big outings or events (although this is more and more challenging as they get older and their schedules are more full).

3) Providing as much as possible in both homes - duplicates when needed.  I don't want them to have to "pack" or remember to bring toiletries, pajamas or other basics.

4) When I get a text or a call asking me to bring something forgotten, I'll do it. 

5) Respond with compassion instead of frustration during those difficult hours of transition.  I will be the stable, consistent and predictable adult regardless of his/her outbursts or anxiety.

These children are such unique individuals.  My heart beats for their success and joy in life.  I want to help each one navigate the difficulties that come with our family dynamic.  I will send them off with a smile and security that they can handle the challenges they are facing. 

Further Reading: The Huge Challenge Faced by Children of Divorce

Friday, September 28, 2018

What I'm Saying to My Son About the Kavanaugh Hearings

You can bet that my bright high school guy is aware of the happenings regarding Supreme Court Justice Candidate, Brett Kavanaugh.  He has opinions.  My job is to help him see the greater implications and how he can apply lessons to his own life.

We can't know the truth of the matter, but "How do you think you can avoid being accused of something you didn't do?"  I asked my son.  "I can't," was his quick reply.  "Even in school, rumors spread so quickly.  If 5,000 people already believe, it really doesn't matter if it's true."

Wow.  He already feels the weight of presumed guilt.  We talked more about living a life of integrity, character being his only true ally.  We identified the importance of guarding against being alone with someone who could lie.  I talked about how essential it is to remain sober - alcohol and drugs can open the door for too many questions.

Our conversation wasn't about whether we believe Kavanaugh or the accusers. We may never know what may or may not have happened.  Perceptions are often more important than reality.  I think it is brave for any woman to stand up and state when she is assaulted.  I think it is sad for any man to be falsely accused.  We have no way to determine the facts and so this is a no-win situation.

To my son, I can only hope that you remember this moment and live far within the boundaries of integrity.  Someday you may run for office or run a store, you may stand on an assembly line or in a pulpit.  I reminded you this morning that how you choose to behave matters, even now.  Your character and reputation are being built today.

I've learned that the truth does eventually come into the light.  We cannot rush the process.  I've witnessed twisted accusations against my father, that were ultimately dismissed as someone with their own agenda.  I know the pain it causes the individual, as well as the family.  I am also a woman who was silent about assault in my own past.  I understand the hesitation to share - we almost wish it would just go away.  I have been accused and I have been assaulted.  

I pray my daughters and my sons are never placed in either position.

Updated to add: I asked my son to read this prior to posting and make sure he was comfortable with me quoting him...he assures me he is not "feeling the weight of presumed guilt."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Flourishing in Fall

We are easing into fall and making plans for family gatherings and time together.  The return to school was dreadful this year because I loved the laid back summer schedule and time to just doesn't happen often when our schedules get too full.  I really grieved the slower pace of our summer days.

Thankfully, I've turned the corner and am catching little moments among the busy times to spend time with my people.  Guess what?  My youngest still loves when I read aloud to him.  I've struggled to get him interested in reading lately, but now he asks almost daily.

My older son played golf for the high school team and it was so fun to witness him as he expanded his experience.  He is thriving in high school - he is maturing so well and I'm deeply proud of him!

My daughter is smack in the middle of Middle School Madness.  We still spend lots of time together and her ambition is inspiring.  It's been kind of amazing to watch her trying so hard to grow up.  It's a season on such changes for her.

My step daughters are also doing well.  Mr. Wonderful just crossed the mountains to visit his youngest at college this weekend.  We marvel at the world of college students, so much has changed from our time at university.

Leading our pack of children is our recent college graduate.  We are enjoying a season of her being home while she determines her next steps following college graduation.  She has high aspirations and I can't wait to see where she will land (we are seriously hoping it is somewhere nearby!).

Mr. Wonderful is fully immersed in work - which isn't always fun.  I'm so thankful for the way he provides for our family, works hard and exerts so much energy into his customers.  We are thankful for our snippets of time throughout the week to squeeze in a meal out or time to crash at home together.

Fall brings all the cozy back to our home and our location in East Tennessee truly shines best this time of year.  We love the leaves, the cooler temperatures and the excuse to enjoy a blanket or two.

If you're still peeking in on us, thank you for reading!  I'm on Instagram, too!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Step Parenting With Grace

Upon considering marriage to my Mr. Wonderful, I also needed consider my role in becoming a stepmom.  Children contribute a significant part of second family dynamics, and the statistics aren't encouraging.  I found helpful information and some what-to-expect type books.  But I didn't see anything that caters to the basic encouragement for stepparents as we do our best to tackle the needs of the new family.  

I'm so excited to introduce a new personal devotion for step parents.  Within the pages you will find understanding and camaraderie from someone who has been in your very position.  Author Gayla Grace speaks with experience and compassion on matters that are only known within the step family dynamic.  Grace shares from a knowing heart without judgement.

Step Parenting With Grace  is a collection of ninety short devotions that pertain to step family life.  Each idea encourages us to expand our hearts and keep our "Eyes off me," (page 8).  Readers will be inspired to take the long perspective of this life with patience, perspective and perseverance.  Step mom and dads alike with be guided in our unique privilege and lifted in prayer.  Grace also includes quote and mantras from all walks of life from the likes of Elisabeth Elliot and AA.  You will find wisdom from Scripture, African proverbs and the NFL.

For the moments that happen everyday to the special holidays, thoughts in Grace's collection will provide focus for the greater purpose you desire as a step parent: Connection.

Let me know if you order and what you think of this new resource!  Comment about your greatest step parenting surprise and be entered for a free book.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Tribute to Shelly and to Friendship

Psalm 116:15
"Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of His faithful servants."

I've shared much about my support system of best friends who are spread out across the United States.  We learned in late May that one of our group had a dear sister who was facing a health crisis.  I am fortunate to have met Shelly Henderson-Mwamakula, but it has been many years since I saw her in person.  She lived in Tanzania and I was able to keep up with her via Facebook and her ministry reports, along with the updates from her sister who is among my dearest friends.

Shelly and Ray Mwamakula (Photo via Facebook)
Shelly was adventurous, full of joy and laughter and she loved Christ with her whole self.  She served women and children in a society that often considers them as property.  She wrote and developed curriculum used to teach scripture.  Her goal was to empower children and thereby change families for the next generation.

It's heartbreaking that she will not be present as her mission goes forward.  There is no doubt that Shelly's influence and legacy will continue among the people for years to come.  My heart aches for the loss that her family will feel, and I especially hurt for my friend.

Shelly's family selflessly shared Shelly with the world and my respect and admiration are great for them all.  I look forward to when we will meet again in heaven one day, Shelly.

Through the grief, we rallied to be with our friend.  She has faced difficult decisions, loss and pain that we haven't had to walk through for ourselves.  I wanted her to know that she is not alone, she is surrounded by love and admiration.  Our friendship has walked through seasons of joy and of difficulty, now through a season of grief and loss.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Five Standout Moments From Our First Five Years

I've been reminiscing as we celebrate our Anniversary. When I close my eyes and consider life with Mr. Wonderful, these are the things that stand out. 

Beach Vacations! Annually we have been able to spend a week at Hilton Head Island.  I am grateful for these times to be all-together and carefree.  Family vacation is part of our family culture.

Holiday Traditions: Christmas brings families together and the season creates a way for blended families to create their own memories and traditions.  Other holidays also make a way to connect and we certainly appreciate the occasions that give us cause to celebrate.

We have our own "couple" traditions, too, for when we are alone and the kids are with their other families.
That Dark Winter of Difficulty: Even though it's not a positive memory, when we had two vehicle accidents, a broken hot water heater and lots of stress, we came together, avoided blame and bonded to get through the hard times.  That's what a family does.

Hiking As family has become way to spend time together and to get back to nature.  It's something almost each of us enjoy and we can do it for a few hours or a full day.  #Adventuremom

Seasons of Change: Five years doesn't seem like a long time, but we have experienced two high school graduations, shifting from elementary to middle and high school, job changes and more.  To be alive is to experience change and this rings true for us, also.  Learning to adapt and shift while remaining committed has been an essential skill.  We cling together when so much around us is changing.
Sending another one off to college!
At the End of the Day we have found our family to be a welcome respite in the world of competition and change. Our home is a landing pad for the comings and goings of life, especially in blended family and co-parenting life.  The relationships we cultivate are safe, reliable and supportive.  We may all exist within a second family dynamic, but we are living out a wonderful success story of remarriage and blending.  I'm so thankful for every single person in our home!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Five Things I've Learned in Five Years of {Re}Marriage

We are celebrating this week - Five years of marriage!  It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but I think we are officially out of the "Newlywed" category.  Thankfully, there were no big surprises when I married Mr. Wonderful.  We took the time to know each other well and that paid off.  Still, I have learned a lot about family (blended and traditional), myself and the ones I love.  I'm confident that there is still a great deal to learn, but today I'm sharing five things from the first five years.

Blending is hard.  Complicated. Most people don't get it, even the close friends and extended family.  Unless you have lived with and experienced the combining of two full households, there is no way to understand the layered complexity. Because it's tough, I've learned to let go of some control and to let the outcomes happen as they will.

I cannot manage the emotions of others. I spent much of my first year of marriage consumed by how everyone else in the house was feeling:  Are my children adjusting alright?  Do they feel conflicted? How are the teenage girls feeling with us in their space?  Can I move that picture on the wall?  Does anyone feel attached to this dish?  Is my new husband getting enough attention?  Am I doing this right?  It was all-consuming and so exhausting.  Slowly I learned to communicate, to connect and to do my best and trust others with their own feelings.  Yes, there are conflicts when bringing two homes together (merging kitchen items of two homes alone is a huge task), but when we do it together, we each have a chance to demonstrate selflessness and resilience.

It's essential to seek the greatest common good and exercise selflessness.  Mr. Wonderful articulated it early that we will both be defensive for our biokids.  The most challenging decisions are the ones that benefit one set while feeling detrimental to the others.  When we acknowledge our intrinsic bias, it helps to take feelings out of the decision-making and be objective about what is truly best for all of us.  Whether it's bedroom capacity, budget limitations, noise and clutter or meal-planning we attempt to aim for the greater common good.

It is essential to live in the moment. The past is part of us and being aware of our stories helps to inform our present.  When I jump to conclusions with Mr. Wonderful based on experience in a prior relationship I am applying a mask over the individual he is.  When he assumes things about me that were true of his previous relationship, he is usually wrong.  Once more, communication has been the key to unlocking our present reality and knowing each other even better. 

I can trust my husband. Time and again I have witnessed that my husband is trustworthy.  I cannot describe the true soul-peace that is found in knowing and resting in his love, protection and care for me and our children.  In him I have a safe place to fall and a partner for times whether good or bad.

Above all, two are better than one when both are first surrendered to the Lord.  It's worth is to work through difficulty and join together for common goals.  Remarriage isn't the road for everyone and we were both enjoying our lives as singles.  Yet I am confident that God brought us together and has blessed our family.  I am so grateful for my step daughters and for my husband.  I wish the same for all who are on the same path.

Are you considering remarriage?  What excites you about the prospect?  What are your fears?  How long have you been married?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Fruit of Friendship

God brought us together in this dorm at
Liberty University.
We had our annual college girlfriend gathering this month and it was so refreshing for my soul.  We were just girls when we met nearly 25 years ago!  Now there is so much history among us and we have had front row seats to the major issues of life: marriage, parenthood, loss, infertility, betrayals, divorce, job loss, financial strain, promotions and seasons changing.  One of our group is sending her own son off to college this fall, and we are witnessing yet a new season.  Another is facing serious illness of a close relative.  I am privileged to travel these unknown roads together with my dearest friends.

I never guessed that we would remain close, and it's an even greater surprise that we have not only remained in contact, but grown so much closer through sharing these years intentionally.  It really hasn't happened on accident but by design as we have been willing to share, engage and make time for one another.  We live on opposite sides of the county, separated by time zones, marital status, job requirements, family demands and more.

This year, we were missing one.  Her absence was felt intensely by the rest of us.  Even though she probably will never know, her presence was still with us as we sensed what she might do our say.  Our hearts were with her as she journeys through her own path right now...we continually included her in conversation and spirit.  I like to think it would be the same for any one of us not able to be present in body one year.

The lasting friendships from college are more than worth the tuition that I paid to attend.  If I could guarantee the same kind of friendship for my own daughters and sons, it would be worth loans and more.  Having such history and support is the fruit of putting in years together: time, effort, intention.  It doesn't happen without awkwardness or expense and yet this kind of friendship is worth it all.