I’ve been gone from this blog for a while–a year and a half, to be exact. While I’ve been writing nearly every day, it’s limited to freelance projects and marketing content. And while I’ve felt the pull to come back to my blog, it was met with a feeling of melancholy and fatigue. And later, with guilt for neglecting something that I consider a gift– the capacity and desire to write.
I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so I hid from the call to write.
For 18 months.
Champion hider, I am.
When my Dad passed away two years ago (today, in fact), I poured out my heart and soul and the immensity of my grief in a blog that I read at his funeral. I wrote one more blog on the day we buried him, and another to mark our first Christmas without him. After I managed to get all of those hard feelings and acutely personal words on paper, I felt empty of any desire to write another word.
The genesis of this blog was the rosy, doe-eyed hope that I had something profound to share with other blended families. (I just giggled writing that sentence, you guys!) I don’t.
I. Do. Not.
Five years post-blend, I have absolutely NO idea what I’m doing. None. 2016 marked our third year as a blended family and it was the hardest year of our life together so far. One of those “Murphy’s Law” sort of years. By the time we lost Dad, and my mom made it through a hard battle with her own health (two weighty things among a steady stream of other wallops), I was just tired. Tired of being Pollyanna about everything. Tired of trying so hard to create an image of a fully-functioning, “look at us go!” blended family when most days it is JUST SO HARD. Don’t get me wrong– if I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would still marry my wonderful husband and I would still welcome my three stepsons into this house and this family with an open heart (not open arms, because we aren’t huggers and that would be super awkward for everyone, but…heart, yes). But if I could go back five or six years and talk to my shiny, naive, “go-getter” pre-blended self, I would sit her down and tell her a few things.
You will never be blended and it will never be smooth— it just won’t. The blending never stops, because the ingredients just keep coming. Once you have the elementary and pre-teen years figured out, here come teenage problems and a whole new set of things to navigate (graduation parties with exes, family events with exes, new drivers, knowing when to show up to events and when to be invisible). None of it is particularly intuitive, because it all involves other humans and their very human emotions, as well as your own very human (sometimes even irrational, if you can believe it) emotions. You just have to do your best and pick your battles. Bit by bit.
Don’t wait for the finish line, my sweet, naive stepmom-to-be. It never comes. And once you realize that, it’s so much easier to cope with the twists and turns.
Sometimes it’s okay to disengage– Gracious, this one is hard. And it took me a long, long time to figure out. I tend to put myself out there when I take something on. I am a bit of a workaholic and super-competitive–driven to do my best in everything. It gets me in trouble sometimes. Not because my intentions are flawed– but because I’m flawed. I don’t take failure well. When I put my heart on my sleeve as a stepparent and it’s met with ambivalence at best and animosity at worst, I literally shut down like a giant, angry baby. One day (and my husband likely remembers this day), I decided that I was done with this perpetual “whole heart, both feet” effort to stomp the funky grapes of our complicated family dynamic into a fine wine.
Most days, it’s more like clearance Boone’s Farm up in here, and I’ve completely come to terms with that.
By backing off from the panicky drive to make everything perfect, things have actually improved. I am far less stressed and resentful because my expectations are realistic. Is our family a failure? Good heavens, no! Our kids are great. Smart, athletic, Jesus-loving, (mostly) respectful…great kids. Every one of them. But I no longer feel personally responsible for making sure of it. There are three other parents in this baffling equation and it isn’t all up to me and my crazy, self-imposed expectations for how this should go.
Fact: (and don’t you dare judge me…I have no regrets) After a particularly tough weekend with one of the kids, I decided to just pretend said kid was invisible for a little bit. Like a few days. And you know what? It helped. I wasn’t rude or hurtful. I was just absent from the tremendous weight of caring so gosh-darned much for a few days while my husband took over all things related to said kid. I don’t even know if said kid noticed I pulled back, but the difference it made in my own mind was immeasurable and good for both of us. Pull back before you splat into an emotional mountainside. It’s fine. Blame me when everyone thinks you’ve gone off the rails.
You HAVE TO protect your “little family”– Your “little family” is the family you dragged into this circus with you on the day you said, “I do.” For me, it’s my son and daughter. For my husband, it’s his three boys. While we are a family of seven, and I refer to all five kids as “our kids,” I’ve learned that our O.G. families need the security of our targeted time and attention. It might be popular opinion to say that you have to keep everything even and do everything with everybody every time, but I’m going to just tell you that’s all complete crap.
Kids have love languages. Kids have individual needs. And your kids didn’t ask for any of their needs to be sacrificed for the sake of “keeping it even” when no one but you is keeping score. The least I can do is acknowledge and delight in the fact that they still crave time with just me. It will come in different forms as they get older, but I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it has been to the well-being, self-confidence and comfort of my biological children that I make time for the three of us to remember and celebrate that we are a strong “little family” inside a crazy, wonderful “big family.” And while we do lots of vacations and activities and dinners and movies with the “big family,” I will always make time to celebrate the three of us, and it makes a difference. So by all means– show love evenly in your family, but don’t be afraid to do it in varying equations and in creative ways. No one has a tally sheet, making sure it’s all in perfect balance.
Find out what matters to your kids and do that.
To that end, I took a quick camping and horseback riding trip with my son (just the two of us) while my daughter was at church camp, and it was so refreshing and encouraging, that it spurred me to find my words again (no pun intended). I may not have any of this figured out, but I no longer feel like a giant fraud because of it. I’m happy to have learned a few things, and whether the rules change again tomorrow or in ten years, I know that through God’s grace, it is (and I am) enough.
Feels good to be back in the saddle. At least for today.
The last words you said to my brother were “What day is it?”
You were asking because your fight was over and you knew you were going Home.
It was July 17th.
The last day anyone would see your warm smile, or look into your kind, brown eyes.
It was the last day that Mom would hold your hand and laugh with you over a joke between the two of you.
It was the day for which we’ve been preparing for several years, but that caught us all completely by surprise.
It was the day that I saw more strength in my mother than I knew one woman could have.
It was the day she held up the rest of us as we grieved.
It was the day I held your hand one last time.
It was the day you shed the earthly body that had held you back from what you love for so long.
It was the day we looked through 73 years of your full life, laughing, crying and marveling at the man you were.
Today is July 23rd.
It is the day that everyone who loved you so deeply will celebrate who you were, even while our hearts break.
It’s the last day we’ll look on your sweet face.
It’s the day we will put your earthly body in the ground in the cemetery that has so much meaning, and even more so now.
It’s the day we will cherish each kind word, each sympathetic tear and each memory of the most wonderful man we knew.
It’s the day we’ll remember, for the 1000th time, that you are in Heaven this very minute, and our hearts will strengthen at the thought of it.
It’s the day we will say goodbye, if we’re ready to or not. We’re not. We never will be.
It leaves every piece of my heart asking “Lord, what day is it? What day will you call us Home to be with Dad and the others who went before him?” As much as my heart longs to see my earthly father again, it pales in comparison to the thought of seeing my Heavenly Father. He, after all, is the One who made a way for us to see those we’ve lost and to spend eternity with them–and Him. All because He loves us so. He grieves with us as we grieve, but is in Heaven rejoicing at the arrival of my Dad, His good and faithful servant. When I think of how Jesus must have felt, knowing the fight my Dad fought on this earth, when he walked into Heaven in a perfect body—I can’t help but smile through my tears.
Dad, we all wanted so badly to make you proud of us in this life. It’s my turn to tell you how proud I am of you. You fought well and you were dearly loved. Your life was authentic and touched everyone who had the honor of meeting you. I will miss you fiercely until I ask one more time “Lord, what day is it?” and the answer is “Today.”
But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
I Corinthians 15:52-55 (The Message)
“You are your father’s daughter.”
I’ve heard that phrase more times than I can count. I never tire of it. As a child, I would nearly burst from pride when someone would notice my dimple, or my brown eyes, or the way I walk, and say “You are your father’s daughter.” I would look at his face when he smiled his gentle smile at me and then touch the dimple in my own cheek, to make sure it was still there—so proud to bear a physical resemblance to a man I loved so dearly. Over time, I’ve even come to terms with having my father’s horrific feet. Recently, as I tried to ease his compression socks onto his legs without hurting him, he said “You know, these feet are your destiny” with a wide smile, and we would laugh conspiratorially at our shared misfortune.
There is a gaping hole in my heart right now that feels impossibly deep, but the love of our friends and family, and especially our Savior, is carrying us through. I profess to be a writer, but the words to convey the lovely person my father was escape me. I couldn’t do it justice with all the words and all the time in the world. I loved him so, and he loved me. So much of who I am is because of who he was.
While my thumb is a much paler shade of green than his, I’ve grown to love watching seeds that I planted sprout up from the earth. Never mind that they have about a 50% chance of survival–at most. The last several visits we had together, he would say “now tell me again what you’ve planted and where you’ve planted it” while I took him on a virtual tour of my yard and garden and he assured me I’d done everything right—whether I really did or not.
I love gardening because of him.
Some of my earliest memories (before they raised those pesky height requirements!) are of him tightly buckling me in beside him in a rollercoaster car, putting his arm around me and giving me that raised-eyebrow grin of his, as we took off up the steep grade, only to plummet back down again, me giggling, and him clutching his Ohio State hat in one hand and my tiny arm in the other.
I love rollercoasters because of him.
I love the smell of a campfire, and the way a hot dog tastes when it’s straight from the roasting stick, charred from the open flames. And there is nothing sweeter than a marshmallow, roasted on a fire that my Daddy built with his trusty National Guard shovel and a few rolled up Bryan Times newspapers.
I love campfires because of him.
He loved being our dad. Both of my parents valued experience over possessions and I thank God that they did. We traveled, went camping, ziplined, tubed down rivers, took road trips and climbed sand dunes. We were professional adventurers. Even when we weren’t exactly looking for adventure, it somehow found us. 🙂
I love adventure because of him.
More than anything, my father taught me what it means to be a Christian. When I imagine what Jesus must be like, I imagine him to have many of the same characteristics of my Dad. A soft-spoken strength, and a love for his children that feels safe and strong. In the middle of the hypocrisy and cruelty of this world, my parents showed us what genuine faith looks like. The last time I saw Dad, we were talking about my husband and I said “He reminds me a lot of you, Dad.” He smiled and said “You sure got a good one and so did he.” He called me his “sweet daughter” when I left, and my heart caught in my throat. I mentally held onto those two words, desperate to remember that moment, knowing my moments with him were growing few. In the three days since he left this earth, Jesus has whispered that comfort to me over and over. I am his “sweet daughter” and my beloved Daddy is with him this very minute. I don’t know how any of us could do this without that knowledge, and if one person’s faith is made stronger by the legacy my Dad is leaving, I can’t think of anything that would make him happier. I’m so thankful for an earthly father who quietly demonstrated the love of Jesus.
I am my father’s daughter, and I am my Father’s daughter because of him.
Thank you, Dad.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. II Tim. 4:7