Dear Dad

I have been blessed to have a lot of people shape my life. They’ve shaped my character, my thoughts, and my beliefs. They’ve shaped the path I take, and they’ve shaped the things that my soul looks for on a regular basis. But none have shaped me nearly as much as you.

I have sat down to write you this many times. In fact, if I’m honest, it’s about 30 years in the making. But I’m not sure until now I would have been able to piece the right words together, or have enough experience and growth to make this half as meaningful as it needs to be.

It’s difficult to even begin to crack the shell of our story. It’s been so colorful, so deep. I guess I’d like to start by thanking you.

For every time you taught me a tough lesson and I spewed attitude back, thank you for your patience. Thank you for knowing what was best for me, and for standing firm in your beliefs so I did not grow up to be a broke, entitled, wasteful member of society. Watching you work diligently and never lying to me about what it would take for me to be successful has been a true blessing.

Thank you for overcoming your own upbringing which lacked great love and encouragement to provide me with one as best you could. There were many oil changes and brake jobs (numerous – sorry Dad). There were many times you pushed me to be better. Actually, EVERY time you pushed me to be better. Thank God you did. I have grown into quite the woman thanks to your perseverance with me. There was a lot of sarcasm and jokes. But I always knew you loved me. And you tried hard to give me that which you were never given. An astronomically difficult task. And I thank you for taking it on for my sake.

For every time you kept your word, and I mean EVERY time, even when it was costly to you, I thank you. You taught me that keeping my word was not an option. You taught me that integrity and character come from doing what you said you’d do, long after you no longer felt like doing it.

The concept of half-assing anything was never part of your being. I thank you for passing it on. It has been my greatest asset and my toughest challenge. To this day I always finish what I start, and I rarely dip my toes in the water – I jump in, just like you Dad.

I never understood how much you did, faced, sacrificed or feared until I had a child of my own in my care. I cannot begin to explain the sleepless nights, the worry, the internal struggle, the countless dollars spent, the time given up, or the sense of pride that pours out of my heart by being a parent. But I don’t have to explain it, because you already know all of what I’m referring to. I can’t thank you enough for being, and enduring that for me.

The road was not always easy, and you may be surprised to hear this, but I want to thank you for that too. I would not be half the person I am today without some struggles in my past that forced me to grow up, own up and search intensely inside myself. I want you to know I no longer view those painful pieces as scars, more like stitches that keep our hearts together.

Creating my own path to “sobriety” has been extremely difficult. I’ve been told for years how I am at risk of catching the disease of “genetic alcoholism”. It’s in my genes they tell me. But I tell them that’s not true. What’s in my genes is a strength they don’t know of. It’s a strength that overcomes such things. It’s a strength I’ve learned from you. I believe being sober is not just about substances. It’s about dysfunction and unhealthy life choices. Without this part of our story I would never have had the need to search for such sobriety. Nor would I have the satisfaction of actually living it. Dysfunction casts a wide deadly net. Every day I work to swim out from under it. To try not to pass it off to my child, to learn from history so it doesn’t repeat itself. But I want you to know that none of this is sad, and I hold no ill feelings about our story. If anything, it’s one of the most beautiful stories ever written.

I’ve never opened up much about our story. I think most people close to me are aware that I have a great respect for my father, but they don’t know how proud I am of you, what incredible life lessons came out of being your daughter, and the amount of forgiveness, patience and hope has existed between us, on both ends.

When you nearly lose your parent, far too soon, to say it has an impact is a monumental understatement. I have had many people I love in my life lose a parent long before they should have. Some of my best friends are these people. I am also married to one. The impact it holds in their heart is overwhelming. If you ask any of them, they would say if given the chance to save their parent, they would give up every last dime, minute and breath to do so. They would trade every one of their possessions and years off their own life to have their parent back even for a day.

I got the closest glimpse of that great emotion in 2004. I was attempting to come to grips with the fact that I didn’t know the exact day, but in the very near future I would have to say goodbye to you forever. I knew the drinking would kill you. I was watching your health deteriorate and each episode was getting more and more destructive. People say they don’t know what’s worse, having a loved one be taken quickly, or at least having some time to say your goodbyes, but having to watch it unfold in front of you.

I’d say neither. What’s worse is watching it happen by their own hand and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it.

You couldn’t possibly remember much of this part of the story, so after many years passing and much reconciliation, I can tell you now.

In late 2004 I was sent to Denver on a business trip. I was there before my boss and had some time to kill so I asked the hotel front desk person to please call me a cab and I decided to venture to an outdoor mall in the area. When the cab showed up, it was a minivan with so much shit on the dashboard I can still remember it clearly. It was covered in stickers; bible verses. He was a kind man, softspoken and genuine. It was a fairly short ride over to the mall, and we didn’t say much.

After some brief conversation about why I was traveling, a quick rundown of his family and mine he said, “You have worry in your eyes and you don’t have to. Give it to God. Pray on it.”

I was taken aback. Who is this creeper? I thought.

“Pray? I can’t imagine that will help at this point, but thank you.”

“What is it that has you troubled?”

At that moment something snapped. I had been holding in so much emotion and fear that it showered this random cab driver. I was surprised at how quickly I had opened up to a stranger like this but I said, “My father is struggling with alcoholism. I don’t think I can help him anymore and he doesn’t want to fix this. So we are all just sort of watching.”

He smiled, “Well God is bigger than alcoholism. He helped me get sober”, he replied, with more confidence and peace than I can describe.

I said that was nice but I wasn’t sure my father believed in God and that throwing the Bible at him wasn’t even an option.

He said, “He will. God woke me up, He can do it for your father too.” Then he pointed at one of his stickers.

 

Hebrews 12:11 :

‘No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.’

As we reached the mall I turned back again to tell him I appreciated the ride and that I hadn’t meant to be rude, just was in a rough place.

He smiled and said, “If you ended up in my cab, it was no accident”.

I felt like the wind was knocked out of me. Crying and trying to catch my breath I called mom. “I don’t know what just happened, I think it was like an angel! He said dad would be okay and to pray on it and I don’t even know what to do with that!”

I have a romantic and whimsical spirit, but I don’t believe in fairy tales. Perhaps that man said all the right things at the right time. Perhaps it was just some wildly blabbering crazy Christian. But something inside of me was stirring.

I now know and identify that feeling as hope.

Months passed and things got worse before they got better. Isn’t life funny like that? Just when you start to think things are going okay, they turn and you had better be ready.

It was at that point that I had accepted the fact that you’d be dying. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it. So one night alone in the dark, I just started talking to God.

Dear God, you talk an awfully big game. If you are as you say you are, you will fix this.  You will come in and clean this mess up and you will save him. You have one hell of a soldier down here and I’m completely convinced that the story does not end like this. He is a phenomenal man, just hurting and misguided. You say you are there for people like that. You’re holding the pen, please write something else.

I begged and pleaded. I didn’t realize at the time that God is not a cosmic vending machine and He won’t just give you what you ask for simply because you want it. But I believed then, and now more than ever, that He wasn’t finished with you in 2004. It was His will that you had a story to tell and more life to live. He uses His strongest soldiers to fight the biggest battles and He was, and is still, using you.

Not long after that was the day I will never forget. When I went to check on you, and couldn’t find your pulse my heart sank. Frantically calling for mom and getting 911 on the phone, my mind was racing.

No way God. Not like this. You promised. You told me he wasn’t done yet, not like this.

When the paramedics finished their work, and brought  you back to me I looked at you desperately fighting back tears and said, “Are you done now? Can we please be done now?”

You were sick and scared and God had humbled you pretty hard that night. I can’t imagine you remember it. It was then  that my unstoppable fierce father had to see that he was human too and that seeking help wasn’t a weakness, but the highest form of strength. You may not remember, but you responded with, “Yes I’m done now”. And this time, I knew you were telling the truth.

The following months were torture for you and I knew they were, but that’s when I started really praying hard. It’s been said, “If God brings you to it, He will get you through it”. And He did, because He wasn’t done with you yet.

What He created out of those ashes is what I now refer to as a walking miracle. And that walking miracle is you.

That was nearly 10 years ago. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of watching you love on your children, your grandchildren, your wife, and most of all, yourself. So much has changed since then. The amount of work you’ve done is absolutely incredible. And thank God I got to watch it, because it turns out I needed a hell of a lot of work too. And had I not had such a beautiful example to follow, I don’t know where I’d be.

People laugh at my Christianity sometimes. They see my sarcastic spirit, they watch what they believe to be my story from the outside and they judge. They laugh at what they view as my lack of intelligence. At how absurd it is to believe in something I can’t see. But some things surpass intelligence and what we can wrap our minds around. As the most intelligent man I know, you of all people would understand the silliness I speak of here. The idea of that craziness in the bible. That craziness nearly makes your scientific mind burst, yet your soul is covered in the spirit. One day you had superhuman strength and I don’t believe it was an accident. And watching that was all the proof I’d ever need to believe in God. It took proof to believe in God, Dad; that I will admit.

But I always believed in you.

I’ve never showed you my library. But it’s glittered with literature that helps me understand your heart, where it was then, where it is now, and how to take what you’ve overcome and write it into my own story, my own future, and the many generations to come in this family.

I read constantly to grow, to learn and to be more. But what’s most crucial to me right now, today, is not to dwell in past hurts, but to tell you how grateful I am for every single day with you. Because you are a walking lesson to so many, whether you know it or not.

Thank you for teaching me one of the most valuable lessons of all; that change starts within, and if you are strong enough to face the mirror, you are strong enough to overcome any adversity that comes your way. It’s a personal discipline that you must submit yourself too. I had long forgotten about Hebrews 12:11 and that part of the story until recently when I saw it again.

Personal discipline. The only way to bear good fruit. And you showed me that in every season of my life so far.

Thank you for teaching me that grace is about having a relationship with someone’s heart instead of their behavior. That forgiveness can be extended even in the worst of circumstances. And when you truly believe in another person and know their heart, it changes everything.

Thank you for giving me a fighter’s spirit. For showing me that I don’t have to believe everything I’m told, that I have a very powerful brain and will of my own and I can determine my fate. Thank you, every day for continuing to fight your own demons, who once tried hard to take you down. You always were much stronger than them.

Thank you for teaching me that struggles can make for a powerful story of redemption. I am proud of that past and to be just like you:

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Thank you for teaching me to stop running from myself. To slow down, to live for today:

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People say a parent often simply wants more or better for their children. Somewhere deep inside they want to protect, direct and be an example. I want you to know, there was no better example than you.I cherish every piece of you, good, bad, humble, bold, and strong:

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I am forever grateful for a father like you.

All my love.

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Love Versus Duty: A Stepmother’s Story

Why am I here?

Have you ever asked yourself this question? Of course you have. Unless you somehow had a true glimpse into everything that blended family life would be, you probably have been blasted by its reality more than once. It maybe even forced you to step back and think….what on earth am I doing this for?

I believe deep down my heart has known that God had a great plan when He cleverly collided the lives of myself, my husband and his biological son. Although, I can’t say I always trusted it would be a great plan, and I tried to control it’s course repeatedly. If you read my blog on discipline, you are already aware that our story was very rocky. And it was in those rocky times where the beauty and love I once felt for these two faded away before I could even realize it.

I’ll never forget sitting in my therapist’s office one afternoon. She warned me that if I let resentment creep into my heart I’d be in great trouble and that we had to stop it before it started.

Stop it? I thought. We’re way past stopping it. I am beyond miserable here.

You see somewhere along the line, everything that I was doing for my little family was coming from a place of duty instead of love. When you move based upon duty, you expect thanks. You expect to be seen. You are doing things because you believe you have to. And most importantly, you are doing things with anger in your heart. That was me. While I’ve never been the girl to sing while folding laundry, I was like a million miles away from June Cleaver. Oh you can bet I was a supermom, but I was a super task mom. If you gave me a task it was done, quickly and efficiently. I’d keep taking on more tasks, and never filling myself up. In fact, not only did I never fill myself up but I never took an ounce of pleasure in it. Everything was a task. Every. Single. Day.

When you’re in a hostile blended family situation, it is very hard to see any silver lining. I had my nose to the grindstone every day. I was always rushed. I was always miserable. I kept adding tasks to my plate and waiting for some thanks. It’s funny because now I see that all that outside work did nothing for my insides. From the outside, people really thought I was a saint. “Wow!”, they’d gasp when they got a glimpse of our story. “You are amazing! How lucky they are to have you!”

Yes, how lucky they are indeed. And while I can admit I was taken for granted for far too long in some respects, in another way I wanted an unfair amount of thanks. If you’re like me, you need to know that your husband and these kids can never really pay you back. Think about it. You’re taking on something so large and abstract, there really is no way to extend full thanks, or to reciprocate. Some of you can argue you never receive thanks at all. I sympathize. But I’m learning now that things look far different when you’re moving from a place of love instead of a place of duty. And most importantly, it’s time to answer that very important question – why are you here exactly?

We get so wrapped up in our mom tasks and in doing anything we possibly can for thanks that we sometimes take it to an unhealthy level. In fact, when my marriage was in horrible shape, nearly at the end of our rope, my therapist challenged me again. She asked repeatedly, “You sound so unhappy. Why are you still there?” After I had run out of all the obvious reasons and we had worked through that portion, I answered the only answer I had. “I don’t know”, I admitted.

“If you’re not there out of love, you are there out of duty, which will inevitably make you miserable”, she explained. “You are there for the wrong reasons. Your marriage is no longer your marriage, it is your addiction.”

My what? 

Along the way I had to learn that when two unhealthy adults come together, it is a real challenge to create a healthy family. At one point, every member of my wise circle had exhausted all of their encouragement and was finally saying it’s probably time to throw in the towel. They were tired of seeing me in such misery and they know I’d tried all that I could and it still wasn’t working. But there was a tugging at my heart.

You’re not done yet.

So I pressed on. And I realized that if I don’t start living with joy in my soul, things would never change. That included saying no, and meaning no when I wanted to. That included sharing my feelings instead of letting resentment build. And that included looking at my child as a gift instead of a chore. Did that one hit you? Because at some point, many stepmothers start doing this. I obviously fell victim myself. Once I adored every move he made. And it didn’t take long before I was so wrapped up in the BS his mother fed us, the lack of his father’s thanks in my eyes, and of course the lack of his thanks too. How unfair, really. An 8 year old boy cannot express adult thanks. And while my husband and I have a long way to go, it starts with knowing my happiness never truly rested on his ability to thank me. And learning what I did about functional families and mental health, I can’t expect much from biomom. So my contentment all came back to me. It was my responsibility to take control of my life.

There’s been a stirring in my soul on this topic for a while. The topic of doing things because you want to, not because you have to. I love deeply the idea of sharing my story with others and helping them through this whole thing. Because I know there was purpose in my pain and that purpose is to grow myself, and help others too. Last Thursday I was at my church going through a leadership training for small group ministries. I love the idea of ministering to those in this blended family journey and I decided it would be good for me. I received a text message during the training. It was about Bear.

My 8 year old boy has hearing loss, and recently was fitted with hearing aids. Overall it’s been a beautiful experience and I am so proud of him for hopping hurdles and dealing with the not so kind comments from mean and/or ignorant classmates. But at least a few times Mama Bear has come out. If you touch my kid, I will lose it. I can teach him to properly deal with comments and hurt feelings, but touching him is out of the question. One incident escalated past his teacher and onto the principal. This has been a trying time for me. I don’t want to see him hurt but I have to learn to let him fight some of his own battles and pray I gave him the right skills.

Out of nowhere, Bear announced recently that he would be doing karate in the school’s talent show. He also said he’d like to break a board. His father is trained in karate and he’s taken classes as well, so this was a great thing for him. They practiced many times. The child has broken plenty of boards with ease. But the night I was at training, he couldn’t do it. The text I received was from my husband. Bear was heartbroken and obviously full of anxiety. He had planned to get up in front of the WHOLE school; an INCREDIBLE act of courage, and break this board. Now, the night before the show, it seemed that might not go as planned.

A tiny Bear heart crushed.

A Mama Bear heart crushed.

I responded to just encourage him as best he could, and that I would do all I could to try and leave work early to be there to watch him. My husband has a terribly inflexible work schedule, so I knew I’d be the only spectator, if he had one at all. Hopefully knowing he may have a supporter in the audience would help. Especially if that supporter was me. A mother who cared and supported him.

You see, Bear’s biological mother is not in the picture. And though he doesn’t voice it much, it’s a blow to a child. And as much as I’ve stepped up to take on tasks, I haven’t been a superstar in the area of encouragement and love. I am not an awful person by any means, but there is duty and misery and then there is love and joy. I have always lived life quickly. There is not time to enjoy the present. We have exactly 6 minutes to complete this task until we begin the next task. Bear doesn’t work well like this but he’s adjusted for me. His past behavior hurdles led me to overcompensate in structure and it’s not been an easy road. My husband NEVER works well like this and many battles have ensued.

But now, I knew it was time to change.

I am a human resources manager. I am solely responsible for many very vital things in the lives of a great deal of people and their families. It is a terribly busy time of the year for me. I could have easily justified not being able to get out of work. But there was not a thing in the world that would keep me from getting to that talent show last Friday.

And it wasn’t to prove I’m a better mom than his biomom.

And it wasn’t to remind my husband of all that I sacrifice.

And it wasn’t for thanks.

And it wasn’t for praise.

It was because in that moment there was not a thing on the planet that was more important to my son. And I rearranged my entire day to be there. I prayed hard all the way to the school. I asked my coworkers to send some prayers/ positive vibes/ whatever they fancy out to my boy.

I pulled up scared to death I had missed him. But thankfully a dear friend of mine whose daughter was performing said I wasn’t too late.

The Principal announced his name, “on deck”. My heart was racing. I desperately tried to arrange my phone to record this, knowing if he nailed it he’d want to watch it 7 million times. He started, the crowd was silent. He nailed his flying kick – he’d been working on it so hard. He bowed, and they thought he was finished so they clapped.

The gym teacher and Principal  walked over to get the block of wood and hold it in front of the crowd.

“Oooooohhh!!!!” The crowd realized what was happening.

He raised his little hand, and with every ounce of his sweet soul he smashed that board beautifully.

The crowd went nuts!

And me?

I was bawling. The other moms were trying to toss compliments at me and I couldn’t catch my breath.

In a classy move, the gym teacher high-fived him and then waved his hand away in “pain” as if to tell the crowd, “Look how strong he is!”

The pride inside my soul was pouring out of me. Strong is an understatement. This kid has seen some serious trials. This kid has endured a great deal. This kid has come out on top where many kids wouldn’t.

This kid is a walking miracle.

When the show was over, I saw him looking around to see if I had come to watch. I tried desperately not to cry so I wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his friends. I showered him with praise – and it was real praise. None of that forced nonsense. He was proud of himself, and I was proud back. No expectations, just love.

And in that moment nothing else mattered.

This has changed the entire trajectory of my home life.

Yesterday we all played catch. This kid can throw a football perfectly. I never knew that. It’s not that I never let him be a kid, or that I never engage in activities with him. But I have spent far more time on tasks than on what matters; the things that can’t be measured in currency, time, or milestones.

This morning as we drove to take him to school, I saw this mini dinosaur (okay it was a snapping turtle but it was huge) peeking out of the mulch in our neighborhood.

“Did you see that turtle?!” I yelled.

“No, where??” he said with that excitement I remember loving deeply a long time ago …. but had forgotten.

I put the car in reverse and backed up. He looked shocked. We are under a time crunch after all. Because we get to school on time – my time, with no distractions, and we move methodically, never veering from the plan.

I put on my flashers and said, “Come on! Let’s look at this thing! Be careful don’t get too close…”

He got out and we walked up together. I took pictures. We talked about what it was probably doing out there. And how we shouldn’t get too close and bother it. And for a split second I realized I had a glimpse of something I had been so desperately searching for.

Happiness. Peace. A Functional Relationship.

This is what it looks like. This is what it feels like. I’ve been so obsessed with creating a happy life I forgot to live one.

Who cares that it took 3 minutes out of “the usual plan”. It’s 3 minutes he will remember. And it’s 3 minutes that filled me up and helped remind me why I am still here.

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I am not suggesting I am not going to stumble with this, because I will. I will lose my temper. I will get hurried. Life moves so fast. But life is more than deadlines, time limits, immovable rules, and stress.

I learned that while you can’t do everything out of love, the more you do, the happier you’ll be. I encourage you to try re-framing these scenarios in your life. When we are with those we love, we want to help them, serving selflessly and asking nothing in return. If this is not possible, it’s time to re-evaluate your path. You can influence more than you think by changing your perspective.

 

And the next time you’re faced with being moved by love or duty, choose love. Even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t want to. Be careful not to drain yourself, and take care to love your family as treasures, not tasks.