Mom in the passenger seat

I’m unsure of the exact moment I stopped grabbing the “oh &#$%” handle or stomping the non-existent brake on the floorboard as she drove. I’m not even sure when I stopped turning down her radio so she could pay better attention while driving. But I must have because today I found comfort in my new seat in her life; the passenger seat.

When she reached over to turn the radio up saying, “oh this is a really good song” instead of turning it down, I just listened to the words. For a moment in time, I stopped what I was doing and revisited the feeling we all can remember as a teenager. Those times when music was the only thing that “got” us and the words touched our souls. For a parent, it is like a window into your child’s heart. I wonder how many parents realize that, that their child is letting them in even when it seems like they are drowning us out.

As she drove with one hand on the steering wheel, instead of nagging and insisting on two hands at ten and two, I focused instead on her tiny painted baby-pink fingernails. She has these perfectly petite little fingers that hold delicate turquoise rings. Loosely hanging from her dainty wrist is a black and white H.W.L.F. bracelet. A bracelet that to some means nothing, but to us, means she loves Jesus and is proud of it. So proud in fact she bought them for her brothers and friends too.

She sang and intermittently interjected little snippets of life she just had to tell me, and I tried to not get caught taking a photo of her driving. She said, “mom, you do that every time!” and I just smiled because she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know the feeling a mother has when she is living in one of those stand-still moments. A moment where nothing major is happening, but your heart is clicking and storing away these mental photographs for a memory you’ll treasure always. A memory that includes her button nose barely clearing the steering wheel, and her teeny-tiny jeans with holes in the knees.

I wonder if she ever looks at me the way I look at her. You know, the way you look at someone you are inspired by, and fiercely protective of? There is effortless beauty and confidence in much of what she does in life, just naturally. She releases and loosens the hair tucked behind her ear and it just falls gracefully framing the same sweet face I can recall wiping tears from as a toddler. Just for a moment it is just the two of us of again and she breaks my visit down memory lane by saying, “this song reminds me of you and dad” and as I listen to the song (Josh Ward, Together) I realize, she does look at me the same way.

The simple moments, those are the ones that don’t just catch you off guard, they take your breath momentarily. As I watch from my new position beside her, it brought on those sweet tears that fill your eyes just enough without falling. The tears that say, “wow, God, this is you blessing me” and just taking it all in. It’s almost as beautiful as her side profile as she confidently takes on the open road in front of her, not just in this truck today, but in life in general.

The passenger seat is where I’ll spend the majority of my years as her mother from here on out. It is where I will support, listen and guide from a new view, perspective and as a bystander. It is where you can still see the full picture, but are no longer in control. It’s the waiting room at the doctors office, the phone call that they’ve made it safely, and sometimes the bare minimum when it used to be an over abundance. It’s the supporting role and no longer the lead.

It’s a beautiful place to sit as you are reminded this is their life, their choices and you’ve done exactly as you were meant and trusted to do. You’ve raised someone who is capable of making decisions, and not just surviving but excelling on their own. It doesn’t come without some sadness and moments of worrying just as you have before, but it comes with a peacefulness of knowing they’ve got this. They are in the drivers seat of life, and though they are buckled in safely, it will be a beautiful, crazy ride with a proud mom in the passenger seat.

If I woke up sixteen again, I'd most likely do these things differently…

There are a majority of life events that I would never alter, even some very painful choices, losses and lessons – because those molded me into who I am today. Truth be told, I’m proud of who I am today. I’ve never been one for regrets. I firmly believe the path I chose, tested me purposely, and grew me intentionally. Without God’s grace and mercy, I wouldn’t have found the path he made for me in the wilderness I created.

Any revision that would alter my children or my husband being mine was off limits! However, I’d be lying if my mind didn’t wander with other events or even some rather questionable choices. So, I began to play around with some tweaks here and there of what I would do just a little differently. Here’s what I came up with in absolutely no order of sense or occurrence;

I would hurt fewer people.

I would not put the edible underwear in the freezer, in plain sight, by the ice cream with young children in the house. (Gag gift, but still, I know!)

I would fight harder in certain situations but less in most.

I would not act on every impulse praying it was God, knowing it wasn’t.

I would attend my grandfather’s funeral even being disowned.

I would not take the position at the jail.

I would save myself, value myself and respect myself more.

I would not go to the hemp festival, or eat that ganja ball, or wear that shirt without a bra pretending to be a hippie. Actually, I’d probably go without the bra again! (Oh, the days before breastfeeding babies.)

I would beg no one to stay. Ever!

I would not sneak out that one time and go to that one party.

I would be more diligent in washing my face. (random I know, but dang it Jessica!)

I would not cheat, lie, marry, forgive or trust him.

I would know my worth lies in God’s hands, not anyone else’s.

I would not skip reading the instructions before using a tampon for the first time. (Okay, younger than sixteen but still… a necessary edit!)

I would re-do a majority of 2008-2009 with heavy edits, a diet and a healthy fear of God and a improved conscience.

I would not let a man ever lay hands on me, or stay with him after he did.

I would find and use my voice much sooner.

I would not leave my mustang with a manual transmission, in neutral in the mall parking lot – while I went shopping.

I would be more spontaneous.

I would not join any AOL chat rooms and talk with anyone who’s screen name was whippedcream24/7. (If you’re shaking your head, I am too – don’t worry!)

I would be a single mom much longer, and a stronger mom who focused on her kids being loved instead.

I would not say that “thing” I said at a softball game once, to his new wife.

I would apologize less for who I am and celebrate myself more.

I would not see trauma, abandonment and failure as a weakness. I would see a therapist and focus on healing as a strength.

I would let her keep him.

I would not drink warm Blackberry MD 20/20 behind the school gym during summer school.

I would stand up for others more in highschool. Including myself, especially during my senior year with those awful girls who cornered me in the bathroom. (If only I was who I am now, then!)

I would not attend a girls’ night in that rural city where a backyard holds too many secrets.

And, the final thing I would do differently if I woke up sixteen again, I’d get up at 2 am and join my dad in the kitchen for a grilled cheese sandwich.

What about you, what edits or additions would you make?

We got married on New Year's Eve. In our living room, wearing slippers.

Fuzzy leopard slippers no less. When I look back at photos of the night I married my best friend, I can’t help but smile. For as long as I can remember I wanted to get married at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Is there anything more romantic?! There is something about the excitement behind whoever you kiss at midnight being who you spend the next year with. Which meant if you married at midnight and sealed the vow with a kiss, you’d spend all your years together.

Both of us having been divorced were well versed in those vows not holding weight or sealing much of anything. However, as we dated we both taught each other what commitment looked like, felt like, sounded like and meant. This time around we wanted a different outcome, and when that is your goal, changes are a necessity. To be honest I think we both felt as though we were unlovable and unwanted when we first met.

Our Living Room

Neither of us had any intention of marriage and that was the last thing I needed to try once again. We were friends though, at first. I remember my daughter being upset when I said I was going to date my now-husband. She said, “mom, that is gross he is your best friend, you can’t date your best friend!” and she was really upset about that. Little did she know that him being my best friend is exactly what I needed. That and a whole lot of time.

We dated just shy of a year before living together, and three years before he proposed in the snow with the help of our kiddos. Then I waited a year of being engaged before we were married. Four years of our seven years together were dating and learning about what committing to not just each other, but to our children meant. And, that was the best decision for us.

Finishing Touches

We invited a few of those closest to us and decided to turn our living room into a ceiling to floor billowing ivory chiffon dream. Beneath the chiffon, our normally plain walls were covered in lights to add to the ambiance. I found a beautiful chandelier and with the help of friends and family, we pulled together all the little Pinterest ideas my heart could handle. It was nothing fancy, just love. Beautifully simple love.

Home sweet chapel.

My son and daughter stood beside me, and his son stood beside him and at about a quarter to midnight, we shared vows that held more meaning and love than ever uttered by either of us before. We counted down with our friends to midnight and shared our forever kiss under our overstock chandelier, in my $20 Ross Dress For Less dress, wearing slippers in our very own living room. My heart was finally home.

A love of a lifetime is worth at least a million tries and this love is priceless.

Does God Still Perform Miracles?

Yesterday I sat and listened to Pastor Jason Noble speak about the power, blessing and thankfulness for a God of fresh starts.

A fresh start is a beautiful gift that allows us to join the fight, to align ourselves with God, believe in his purpose for our lives and throw our plans out the window. Blind faith takes risks. Blind faith trusts God. And, blind faith believes for miracles.

We take risks in moments of desperation, when the only thing left to hang onto is your faith and trust in God – because God wants your heart. He wants to make a way for you to come to him. Desperation finds the lost and leads them to salvation.

The pastor told us of a story of a twelve-year-old girl who was life flighted to a Missouri hospital. Her father wasn’t actively seeking the lord, but he had asked for the pastor to come in and pray. The next morning he was on his knees in tears, giving his life back to Christ. He whispered to his daughter that Jesus is a much better father than he could ever be and that he would be okay. An hour later she died.

Weeks later at the funeral the Pastor learned that this mans daughter who had died, had been praying for her father every Wednesday night at church. The children’s pastor shared that she would pray these words, “God whatever it takes to bring my dad back to you, do it.” At 12 years old. And, on this day, the day of his daughter’s funeral, her father was praising a loving and good good father.

We don’t always know why people die, especially children. Personally, I can’t imagine that loss and pain. It made me think of Olive Heiligenthal, the two-year-old daughter of Andrew and Kalley Heiligenthal. Kalley is a worship leader at Bethel Redding and a songwriter. They believed God for a miracle; they stood firmly rooted in the belief that God would wake up their daughter and bring life back. They withstood criticism, negative publicity and controversy yet never wavered in their faith and belief in God’s word that with him we can heal the sick and raise the dead.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

People all over the world stood with, prayed alongside and online using the hashtag #WakeUpOlive, the church as one body, united all over the world believing for a miracle. I prayed. I prayed knowing God could absolutely breathe life into dry bones if it is his will. If you have watched the movie Breakthrough, you know God is still a God of miracles, a God who saves. I know that prayer changes things, and a mother’s prayer can restore life. Not just her own child, but lives all over the world.

Whether you disagreed with the Heiligenthal’s beliefs. Maybe even questioned why their child was more deserving than another. Or wondered if suffering a loss of this magnitude had the parents thinking unclearly for an impossible breakthrough restoring life, I say, it restored life. Just like the story above about the twelve-year-old girl who prayed for her father, just like the 2015 true story of Breakthrough, Olive Heiligenthal’s story and her parents’ faith restored lives all over the world. She did not wake up, but others did.

We don’t know why God saves and heals some and not all, but he knows why he does and that is enough for me. Faith, that feeling deep in my heart, tells me that healing doesn’t always mean life being breathed back into a body here on earth. Healing means freedom from pain, it means restoration and peace, and sometimes that only exists in heaven. And sometimes loss heals and restores those left behind.

To answer the main question of whether or not God still performs miracles, the answer is without a doubt, yes!

While some stepparents are cropping their stepchildren out of photos; I re-created a photo to include mine.

The photograph below was taken on my 34th birthday and it has been a favorite of mine for many years. When you look at this photograph you see a mother, son and daughter. When I look at it I see protection, love and strength surrounding our little family of three.

THREE PEAS IN A POD

Sweetly tucked just under my wing, yet still standing on her own is my daughter Gracie. Her beauty has always taken my breath away and her independence has always tested my strength while educating me simultaneously. This girl differs from the rest. She is an original. I see a young girl who loved softball and had dreams of becoming a lawyer and attending Harvard.

On my back is my son Gage. Just look at his sweet face and how he’s proud to wrap both his arms around his momma, but is still held up by me. He loved his momma more than anything and his sissy was a close second. Baseball and basketball were life, and he had dreams of being in the MLB or NBA.

Then there is me, proudly standing on my own two feet. No matter how many times I fell down, I always got back up. I became well-versed in God’s redirection and going back to the drawing board, editing and revising my life until I became a better woman and mother. I see a woman falling in love with herself for the first time and making her children proud. This photo became my life’s mission statement a visual anthem that said together, we had everything we needed and could make it through anything.

It is crazy how much history and memories a single photo can hold. On this exact day my boyfriend was preparing a surprise birthday party for me at my home. We had started dated seven months before and he had a son from a previous marriage, Cole. Cole and Gage knew each other from school and introduced us because Cole’s dad was the boys baseball coach. I was in a stage to push everyone away and pull my children closer. I was fine with a boyfriend, but not marriage, and most definitely not another son.

His son. That is what Cole was, he was my boyfriend’s son. He was unique and unlike my children. I struggled to understand and connect with him. He wanted to be just like his dad and their bond was unlike anything I had ever witnessed between a father a son. There was no room for me. If we walked beside each other, Cole would come in between us. He liked me but he didn’t like me having any attention that could be his. It was difficult to navigate and I won’t lie and say I didn’t get frustrated, cry and want out.

After a year of dating, we moved in together. Things were still challenging, but I loved his father, so we committed to making it work. Cole desperately missed having a mother, and I wanted no part in that. If you read my post, No, you already have a mom, then you know the story already. He’d ask to call me mom, and I’d say no. Yet, I did all the things a mother would do for her child. We spent countless hours at the dining table doing homework, working with teachers, reminding him to brush his teeth, to change his underwear, doctor’s appointment’s and everyday mothering. He had everything he needed. I just left the loving part to his dad. I couldn’t bring myself to be his mom plus he had a “real” mom, and I had my “real” children too. It was us three plus them two and it didn’t equal five. It equaled three and two.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE.

One day by the grace of God, things changed, my heart softened and became protective of him. There was a moment when I could no longer sit by and watch as Cole was let down and hurt. I realized that the person letting him down was not the only one; I was letting him down too. He had not stopped asking to call me Mom, and it was clear he needed me to say, yes. Maybe, I needed to say yes too, so I did.

From that moment Cole became my son, my real son. He didn’t become my son when his father and I eventually married three years later. Or at a point when he was more pleasing or easier to love – he became my son in the middle of messiness and a storm. He became my son the day he chose me, the day he asked me to be his mom, and the day I chose him in return. God placed us together knowing that storms make trees take deeper roots and two trees intertwined were stronger than one.

For approximately six months I’ve looked at this old photo of my sweet babies and I, knowing and feeling that something was missing. Each time I would share it, I felt a twinge in my heart that something was missing. Then I realized the something missing, wasn’t a something, it was a someone.

In a world where stepparents are cropping/editing out or even just leaving their stepchildren out all together, I wanted to add in mine. Luckily I have a dear friend who helped me re-create the first photo with the addition of Cole. My heart (and possibly Cole’s) needed him in this photograph that reminded me occasionally of who I am today as a woman and mother because he is just as much a part of who’ve grown into and become over the years.

ALL MY BABIES IN ONE BEAUTIFUL PHOTO

This photo now shows all that it had before and so much more. It isn’t just the addition of another person; it showcases life. Real, down to the nitty-gritty life in all its glory and differences. It shows dedication, commitment and choosing each other – even on the difficult days. The days when people who have been blessed in not experiencing the blending of two families, will almost always misunderstand us. The days when I’m told I will never be his “real” mom because he has a biological mother already. The days he is told he is not my “real” son because I didn’t give him life. Those are the days we choose each other more and now we are very much mother and son.

When I look at this new picture, I still see my beautiful and independent daughter who now has made room for another brother and wants to be a Science & AG teacher instead of a lawyer. Gage is still on my back, still smaller than most and loves his momma and basketball, but now wants to be a Veterinarian. Right in the middle where he belongs is my other son, Cole. I see a handsome young man who loves with a very open, gracious and giving heart. I see someone who selflessly spent hours every day for at least a week if not longer making me a Christmas present that no other parent received. I see a boy who came into my life scared of losing his father to a woman he thought was trying to take his place when all I wanted to do was share it. And, who just wanted a normal family with a mother and father – like I did. Cole is who I needed to become a better woman and mother, and I like to think I am who he needed to help him become a better man.

Being a parent has zero to do with biology and 100% to do with love and choice. Sometimes that choice is not ours to make but Gods, and he reminds us that while it may not always be easy, it is always worth it and for our good. Three plus two now equals a family of five. A real family.

Mom Cliques: Sorry, I'm just not that into you.

Let me preface this with saying there are many moms I love and adore – and genuinely enjoy spending time with. However, a group of cliquey moms, that is an entirely different story.

I’m a writer which means I am always thinking – if you could see the cyclone of words, ideas, thoughts memories etc., swirling in my head – you’d get dizzy. It also means that I feel emotions deeply, what impacts others impacts me. I don’t even have to know them, it can be a stranger, it can be a commercial even, if it involves emotions I’m sucked in faster than an unmatched sock while vacuuming. Also, being a writer means that I love to be alone. You can’t be alone in a group!

An acquaintance invited me once to a mom thing – and I just blew it! Shocking right?! I have this inability to b.s. my way through anything, I can’t be a fake to save my life and my facial expressions give me away every dang time. Truth is, I’ve done the trying to fit-in thing, and I’m just not a fit-in-able kind of girl let alone a club-cliquey kind of mom.

Fitting in is too much work for me. The energy it takes to be “always on” and pleasing is exhausting. My soul craves authenticity, messiness and side-splitting humor derived from lessons learned by making actual mistakes. If you are not a mistake maker or a recovering mistake maker, how could we ever chill on a couch trading mom stories together? We can’t! Here are some reasons I am in a solo mom clique. If you are anything like me, we should chat.

I leave dishes in the sink, laundry in a pile on the floor and we live in our house. I can’t have just anyone pop over uninvited!

My house is full of teenagers and then some, dogs, a husband that thinks where he takes off his clothes equates to a laundry basket and me… who sometimes ignores all of that and will leave it until tomorrow. Do I take pride in a clean home, oh you bet your sweet tushy – but will I leave it to spend time with my family – or savor a few moments of solitude, you better believe it. We are not a “for show” type of family. Our kids raise farm animals and my daughter has poop on her boots, our boys play sports and leave anything with wheels lying around the house and prepare yourself, our dog poops on the kitchen floor when it is to dang cold outside for his princely paws.

I’m allergic to b.s. and drama! Like, I will break out in hives and most likely say something I will totally regret.

Lying irks me beyond belief and I can spot someone who lies a mile away. Even adding to a story to make it more exciting, nope can’t handle it! So when someone is b.s.-ing their way through anything I am not liable for my reaction. It is like there is a meter that goes off and I just short-circuit. The word drama itself – is irritating. The definition is an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances. But here is the thing drama today is not exciting or unexpected. Just turn on Bravo or E!, and you won’t need drama. Problem solved.

Shots, Shots, Shots of…coffee???

I’m not a huge drinker so the mom groups of the like – I can’t hang. My daughter asked why I don’t ever just go out and be wild… oh honey! let me tell you. Did that, did that real well, and even bought the t-shirt! There is a time and place for a good time but I’m forty-years-old and taking shots isn’t exactly exciting anymore. It was more exciting when I was 20 and it was illegal. Or that one time I made hot chocolate with creme de menthe and took it to our sons baseball tournament – and couldn’t figure out why I took a nap in the car for a couple hours!!!! Yep! That happened, total mom fail but in my defense it was completely unplanned and so warm and delicious.

I’m a lover not a fighter. A positive Polly not a negative Nancy.

I used to be a fighter. There was immense enjoyment in calling people out, using my words to hurt or anger someone who had done the same to me, but not anymore. It is funny what living life, making mistakes and being human does for a person. Now, I just want to be happy, love others, include the outsiders, encourage and motivate people. Zero Judgment what-so-ever. Other women are not my competition and if it turns into one, I will bow out gracefully and let you win my friend. It must mean more to you if it’s important enough to fight for. Oh, and negativity! I just can’t. I’ve had a crappy life before and I mean reaalllyyyy crappy. If I can find positive in that pile of crap, so can you! You can do it, I believe in you!

Don’t tell me what they said about me, tell me why they were comfortable talking about me to you.

Susie will always have something to say about Sally. What I want to know is why you are telling me? And, how much of what I have shared with you, have shared with someone else? If they talk to you about someone else, they will most likely talk to someone else about you. That ain’t cool Karen! I think this past year was the most I’ve said, “I don’t want to know” and “It’s none of my business” ever in my life. And it is empowering! Not to mention, that I would most likely end up being friends with the person you are talking badly about because I am a huge fan of the outsiders, the underdogs and the misunderstood.

Good food for thought too is that the person you are gossiping about, the horrible thing you heard (keyword: heard) they did. It may just be something I’ve done in my past too. And, yes, I know you’ll say it is different because you love me – but is it really all that different? Really? Nope! Aren’t we supposed to love everyone and not judge anyone? How about you just put those stones down and you can thank me later, okay? Okay.

It’s not you, it’s me!

If there was a group of moms who supported instead of judged, talked to and not about and just loved God and their husbands while doing their very best to not raise crappy kids – that would be my group. Oh and loves food, comfy clothes and hallmark. And cusses sometimes, has peed their pants laughing at least once and has made mistakes. Yep, that is my mom group. Care to join?

Divorce: the scapegoat for the absent parent.

Just show up. It is actually that easy.

A good portion of this year I’ve spent in reflection analyzing my thoughts, feelings, and actions as a parent. I’ve made many mistakes throughout the past 18 years, many. It took accountability and required the swallowing of my pride to not only be aware, but to apologize for the ways my choices affected others and even my own children.

I remember sitting with them both and defending their father on something because he had every right for how he felt and his distaste and disapproval for my choices. The words flew out of my mouth without even realizing. It was as if I was in the movie Liar, Liar with Jim Carey. Audibly I heard the words that had remained safely tucked away in the corner of my mind for a day I was strong enough to admit my faults. Today was that day apparently. I remember saying, “your father was right and what I did was wrong. At the time I couldn’t see how unhealthy my actions were and how they would affect you both, but he did. And I need to apologize to you both right now” and I did. I remember explaining that the way he felt about me was understandable, however, his hatred for me, being transferred to them, was where the issue was laying unfairly.

When you become divorced, you no longer have a spouse, however, your children are still your children. That relationship, bond, expectation, role, and responsibility didn’t just end when you signed your divorce papers. What your spouse did to you, whatever they put you through must have a line drawn with your children.

Using my fingers on one hand, I can tell you how many events, games, or school activities I’ve missed in the 14 years being divorced and it is less than five. On that same hand, I can tell you how many times my children questioned my attendance, my involvement, or whether I would see them during any moment in their life. And, how many times they questioned their importance or my love for them, all which are zero.

They’ve never waited for a call to see if I could make a game or a call saying that I wouldn’t. They’ve never sat at an event looking into the crowd and not seen me there beaming with pride. They’ve not looked at me with that “did you see that play” seeking acknowledgement, only to see me exiting the stadium. They’ve never sat at school waiting to see if I would attend a conference, an exhibit, or an award being received. They’ve not had me not pick them up when they are sick, comfort them when they are hurting or protect them when scared. I’ve always been there. A constant. I’m not saying this to toot my horn, I’m saying this because I divorced their father, not them. My responsibility to them as their mother never ended.

Parenting time is bologna, it is not about the parent; It is about the child. If more parents made this time about the child, I guarantee you the children would benefit. Sports, school events, doctor appointments, emergencies, holidays – that is a lot to navigate between two homes. If you try to add two calendars to that, and what works for who, it is pure chaos. I’ve never understood why parents don’t view their time with a child no different from being married. If during your marriage you would attend whatever it is, then you should be there. Unless you did something awful to the child, you have open access. That means you can and should attend anything that supports your child, whether your ex spouse likes it.

I would like to think if I did not have full custody that I would not have just slipped into a role of a “sometimes, if it works out, I may make it” type of parent. In fact, I’m certain I would attend everything I could, and everything I should. Making certain my children know they’re loved, supported, celebrated and the center of my entire universe. If their father didn’t like it, or his spouse didn’t like it, too damn bad. I’m not there for them, I’m showing up for my children.

To this day, with two 14-year-old boys and my 17-year-old daughter, I get sick if I miss something important. It feels as if I am letting them down. I would never make them miss something important to visit with me, I would attend the something important with them. We schedule our lives around our children, not our children around our lives. How do you get back that time, that optional involvement and those moments that build and fill a child’s heart with love and worth? Do you realize that 18 years flies by in what feels like minutes? And, you waste that when all you have to do is just show up!

Sometimes life happens, you’re required to work late, or maybe your work refuses to let you off to attend a recital or game. I get that; I do. That is not what I am referring to. I’m referring to the parents who choose to not attend, the parents who have the schedule, and still don’t come.The parents who have the finances for trips, outings, events but not for gas to drive to an away game, or even 15 miles down the road. The parents who attend a function that self-serves instead of giving of their self, and of their time. The parents who manipulate, are dishonest and deceitfully make the choice to honestly just fail as parents. All to blame it on the ex-wife or ex-husband. And, for what? What purpose do those lies serve?

Because here is the thing, right now you are letting them down, not your ex. In a matter of years that will fly by like seconds, there will be weddings, children and life events – and it will be you let down when the invites are no longer extended. It will be you alone without a choice because you chose anything and everything except your children. All you have to do is show up. It really is that easy.

Choose your kids. Show up. The end.

The three four-letter words blended families would benefit from never using again.

Words matter. I’m sure some of you think they don’t but respectfully I disagree. Just the same, names matter too. When a parent first learns they are expecting, they spend countless hours researching origins, meanings behind, and deciding on the perfect name. I’m curious if you have researched the origin of the word “step” in terms of a child or parent? Sure, mostly being called a stepparent, stepfamily or stepchild is harmless in the grand scheme of identifying family having gone through divorce and remarriage. But would you call the child you gained through marriage, orphan-daughter, orphan-son or call yourself father of an orphan or mother of an orphan? I doubt that you would. Unless you are a blended family, which treats each other like orphans. And, if so, that’s a whole other blog post.

The word “step” originates from the old English word – steopcild which means orphan. Not having parents and that is not the case with stepchildren as they belong to one spouse now remarried.

The word parent means: brings forth, offspring and relates to DNA. The act of parenting means: bringing up, caring for, promoting and supporting. There is a clear difference. One can be a parent in the word’s sense and not be a parent by definition of actions. The ones requiring clarification are the parents, not the children. And, when all are acting in the best interest of the child, why some refuse to acknowledge and celebrate even that another person cares for, loves, and supports their child just blows my mind. I’ve never understood it.

At first, the word “step” never occurred to bother me, the meaning or otherwise. In fact, when I first started writing about being a “step” mom, I playfully used the term in my title, “That’s Mrs. StepMom to you!” and I loved it. Being both a biological mother and now gaining a son through my husband, the way parents treated, spoke of and disregarded stepparents disgusted me. It still does to be honest. The only time I reference being a stepparent is when someone needs clarification or when writing on this topic.

Now when I hear it, I cringe. It is like cusswords for blended families. Step, mine, and your are all words that blended families should limit or not use entirely when speaking of/to a child. It discredits, disregards and makes it known they don’t belong to you or come from you. Why would that be necessary or even a desire? It surely is not a loving or kind desire. Let’s be real here for a moment, there are some families who fondly speak of each other with “step” and this is not for them. This is solely for the ones who can’t figure their own feelings of inadequacy and insecurities out. And who furthermore places those feelings onto their children who innately want to be loyal.

Saying “your child” does more harm than good. Using terms such as “my child” and “your child” are used to separate the child, parent, fault, and involvement. Why not just tell your spouse their kid sucks and yours is better? I mean, that is what your actions are doing and saying. Because when they are pleasing and doing something we are proud of, we wouldn’t say your child is smart, or your child played great in their game – that is how you talk about someone else’s child in another home, not someone in your own family and home.

When I speak of my sons, I speak of them as my sons, both of them. I do not address one as my husband’s son, or as my husband’s ex-wife’s son, or as my stepson – just my son. Our children call us both Mom and Dad, because we are both a Mom and a Dad. Children can have multiple parents without the need to differentiate. That need for differentiating comes from hidden insecurities in other parents and people unfamiliar with how blended families work. With the utmost respect and kindness for those who don’t understand blended families, it is not our job to make them more comfortable because they either don’t understand and cannot see themselves calling someone else aside from a biological parent, Mom or Dad.

The hidden or even visible insecurities that some parents have gives them this need for the world to know that they were the parent first. Let me tell you something – biological or otherwise, if you are a good mother/father, your title will never matter or require clarification. Being a biological parent doesn’t exalt authority over another parent except in cases of the law, and even then only if acting in the best interest of the child – when the parent can’t manage it on their own. The title or biology of a parent doesn’t make someone a parent anymore than standing in a garage makes them a car. And yes, I know that some judges and lawyers put ridiculous clauses in orders such as, – the child cannot call the stepmother, Mom. I’ve read these orders and they are ridiculous and assumptions lead me to two things. First, the mom was insecure and felt entitled to her role, and second, the child will resent one of these parents at some point.

I’m curious how many parents speak to their children and ask their feelings, opinions and desires about the other parents and really listen to their hearts. If a child wants to call someone else, Mom/Dad that is something that requires attention and consideration. A child desiring inclusion in something created by division of something which directly impacted them takes guts. It comes from a personal desire for connection and being part of a family, and that is beautiful.

We will never have a role superior to one-another because of marriage or biology. Countless times people have told us that a decision or action being made by us was the “main” parents’ place in our home. And, we smile and disregard it every time for two very good reasons: first, most often this advice comes from non-blended families and respectfully the will never understand, and second, we are the main parents in our home, as one united family.

I guess for me; I choose my son as my son. I choose him on the days he acts in such as way that screams he has other parents that raised him differently. I choose him on the days it takes the act of love and patience to love him. And I choose him on the days he acts just as I have raised him both good and bad. The moment he asked to call me Mom, I made a conscious decision to treat him as a mom would, as a mom to her own children would. The same goes for my husband and the way he loves, treats, supports and raises the two children he gained through our marriage – as his own; a daughter and a son. Not as orphans or steps – one united family acting in the best interest of raising our children with love and to love whoever they choose.

The Disqualified Christian – Part Five: Comparison

This year I went to a Christian women’s conference, it was the first one that I had ever attended, and to say I was excited was an understatement. As I opened the flyer to read about the speakers, I did the unthinkable; I compared myself. It was unintentional at first, I was searching for any connection – something that would validate my past. Reading the snippets of their bios beside their head-shot, I stopped dead in my tracks. All I could focus on was their qualifications. The things that qualified them to be a speaker, to stand on the stage doing exactly what I want to do and what disqualified me. And, it is ironic because I am very aware that God does NOT work through “qualifications” and that the enemy was leading me to believe the lies that I was disqualified.

Each one of these women stood up on stage and shared stories of vulnerability, stories of fear and stories of how God had shaped or changed their lives. Truly beautiful and honest accounts of transformation in some form. The trials they had suffered were difficult, terrifying and significant. As I sat there listening to them 75% of me admired and respected them and the other 25% told myself “your dream is over, sister! You can never do this. You have too many.” Too many of this, too many of that – just too many!

They had been married for 10 to 25 years. All appeared to have a godly marriage, no mention of divorce or remarriage. There was not a testimony of addiction, sexual sin, anything that would carry a sin-shock once revealed. What would my bio read? Jessica Griffiths. Married & Divorced. Re-married & Re-divorced Again. Blended Family. Sex before marriage … oh ya, I can see the empty arena now. No thanks, I am good!

What impacted me the most though was watching one woman in particular ramping herself up to share her most shameful truth. It was crushing because of the heaviness of her shame, the things that made her feel unworthy or fearful were so minor in comparison to my own past. It showed me that we are so unforgiving of ourselves for the slightest infractions. And, that even someone with her qualifications, her education, status etc. was still fearful to some degree of judgment.

Sitting there impatiently waiting for her to work up the courage to share whatever carried such humiliation and embarrassment for her, I prayed. I prayed for her past to be even the slightest of something that mirrored my own. Is that awful? It sounds terrible to me to pray for something like that – but it was for a good reason, kind of. I wanted her to say something that would pull me into her heart, something that screamed – you’re one of us and welcome here. My need for it to be significant, something that would whisper “I’m just like you” was vital to feeling human, and still worthy of being a christian.

I prayed she would share something that proved that I was not disqualified. That I could share my story with other women, encourage and motivate them, become an author and not just be a flawed woman. But when she shared her truth and testimony, it was nothing like my past, and nothing I would have ever faulted her for nor condemned. In fact to me I would not have even categorized it as a sin. I honored her vulnerability, but dishonored Gods promise to myself. I ended up leaving the conference feeling disqualified. And, my heart broke.

For the next week I wrestled over my feelings. I wrestled with the idea of truly being disqualified. Would God call me to write and share my testimonies if I were truly disqualified? And as soon as I said that out loud, I realized I’m not sharing my testimony. I’m sharing how I survived, how I am saved by Gods grace and how he loves me. But I haven’t told you my actual mistakes. I’m safely tucked behind a computer, a quote or a blog post saying, “I’m a Christian”, “God is real” and that I know that I’m forgiven but I’m not sharing why or how I know this.

Here I am dreaming of the day I am able to speak life into women who are needing validation, desiring acceptance, and deserving of forgiveness – and I am already letting them down because my testimony is incomplete. And, God called me on that, right there in my car. He said, “Show them why and how YOU are NOT a disqualified Christian. Show them what disqualified you before the grace of God. Show them what qualifies YOU and THEM in my heart and that my mercy never fails.”

It was in that moment my heart softened, that overwhelming feeling of clarity and joy overflowed and replaced any ounce of doubt I had. It was in that moment the enemy was silenced and the series – The Disqualified Christian, was created.

There are times what God speaks to us it not meant for sharing, but there are also moments when it is meant for others to know. God is very active and alive within me and I would be disobedient if I did not share this with you today.

God wants you to know that you are not disqualified, that he never compares you to anyone else because he created you to be set apart and unique on purpose. There is not a person, career, monetary amount, sin or any other factor that can disqualify you for his love and purpose. God is not in the business of crushing dreams or hearts, he is in the business of crushing us into position to bear the fruit he planned for the purpose of his glory. There is no glory in heartache, only in love and multiplication.

 Romans 12:6 (MSG)

“Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” 

There before the grace of God, go I.

“and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”  (1 Corinthians 15:8-10, NIV)

My grandfather used to say “there before the grace of God go I” during moments of tragedy, mourning or suffering. As a teenager and young adult, I would catch myself following the sentiment without realizing the weight behind the words I was reciting. There before the grace of God goes I, was how my grandfather spoke it, however the proper written statement is, ‘There but before the grace of God, go I – but still what does that mean, I asked myself one day.

Isn’t it ironic how we mimic what we hear growing up without analyzing the meaning behind it? I began to question the words, what they meant and what it was that I was repeating. Was my grandfather saying we were better than the homeless man sleeping in the bushes at the park, because we go to church? Was he saying that God loved us more than the people suffering in the car accident we just passed? Was he saying that if I don’t go to church and follow God that I too deserved to suffer? Until I read what Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians – the power, love and meaning was lost on me.

Paul felt as though he was undeserving and admitted that if it were not for the grace of God, he would still be the same Paul who persecuted Christians. It is a verse of humility and love. My thankfulness is rooted in the same manner as Paul. It was only for God’s grace and who he created me to be that I am the mother, wife and person I am today. He created me with intent, purpose, a heart that loves more than ever received and a mind that dreams of God making my impossible, possible.

God knew I would follow my heart instead of listening to him at first. He saw ahead to the moments I would fail, resist his help or the help of anyone else. He knew I would disappoint both he and myself when I would surely proclaim the lie that I only needed myself. He would be patient as I took the lead foolishly thinking that I was alone, and in charge. He continued to pour his love into me even in the moments that I denounced his purpose and plan for my life. He used these moments in his infinite wisdom, in his pursuits and how he would reveal when the timing was right, that he was whom my strength originated. His Grace is love, and there will not be a day that I am not thankful for that.

We are so naïve in what we so blindly refuse to acknowledge is him. Looking back now I see his hand helping me up to my feet, his arms lifting me up and out of whatever mess I created this time. His love for me when I couldn’t stomach my own reflection let alone the idea of loving myself, was abundant and refreshing. If it weren’t for these moments, I would not have three teenagers that have shown me a love that I never knew was possible and test the patience in me at the same time. If it weren’t for his grace, I would not have a husband who chooses me every day, despite my past and makes me feel the same safety I do in trusting Jesus.

My life afforded by his grace is not a based on whether I go to church, it is not saying that I am more deserving than anyone else or that I will escape my own tragedies or hardships. It is saying that I won’t be alone in them. I’m thankful to be aware of that. To humbly admit that I need his grace, that I want his grace and that my strength, love and faith are deeply rooted in him, is a gift in and of itself.

We all falter, we all have moments of pause and question – and we all at one time in our lives have felt undeserving of God’s love and grace. That is what creates the humility and compassion in our hearts for one another. Imagine all that God has witnessed, imagine all the people he consoles as they suffer, all the ones who at times question his abilities, his intentions and even if he is real. Imagine that for one minute and then picture him loving them anyhow. Is there anything more beautiful than that? I don’t believe there is.

Thankfulness is a choice just as is love. It is an action word; it requires movement, it requires flexibility and an intentional heart. It is easy to get stuck in the ruts of life and take things, people and even God for granted. There are days when I wake up and all I can muster are the words, “I’m thankful I woke up today”, or “I’m thankful that my being alive today means I must still have work to do for you God, that I must have purpose.” Even if I have no idea what it is. I trust he will clue me in when his timing is right, and most likely when my mind and heart are still.

Today I encourage you to take deep breath and think of one thing or person you are thankful for. Something or someone who gives you the feeling of relief or that pleases you. Whether it be a simple as a baby sleeping through the night, enough money in your account to keep the power on, a spouse who decided to unload the dishwasher or a puppy who didn’t chew another hole in your brand new couch. Or something as significant as a lost son or daughter coming home, the blessing of a positive test result or clear scan saying that cancer is gone. Whatever it may be, whatever you can muster up in the pits of despair – speak it, feel it and choose to be actively thankful for it and know you are never alone or undeserving.